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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Talladega (Fall)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Joey Logano wanted to make sure that no one slept easy before the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway, so he went out and won the first two races of the Contender round. Now he is the only driver who’s fate is not linked to the vagaries of the draft or the capriciousness of a "Big One" crash. Once this hurdle is cleared and drivers have a chance to reflect on the Bank of America 500, Hollywood Casino 400, and CampingWorld.com 500, Logano will find that he has fewer fans among the drivers, but a greater opportunity to win the championship.

In the brief two-year history of the Chase format, the Contender round has become a time when rivalries become established. Talladega looms large over the first two races at this level and decisions are made in the heat of the moment. Last week’s contretemps between Logano and Matt Kenseth joined similar incidents at Charlotte Motor Speedway between Dale Earnhardt Jr.and Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Kenseth, and Kyle Busch with a non-Chaser. Furthermore, pit road penalties hurt the effort of Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. at Kansas Speedway, which means more than half the Chase field will enter this week nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The contenders will not make any intentional contact on the restrictor-plate, superspeedway and any potential retaliation will probably need to wait until next week at Martinsville Speedway or four weeks down the road at Phoenix International Raceway, but the heightened emotions will undoubtedly cause some type of catastrophe. The CampingWorld.com 500 is going to be a battle for survival and all bets are off the table. One of the favorites to advance will get eliminated and someone from the bottom four in points is going to be very happy to take their spot in the Eliminator round.

No matter who advances this week, there are going to be some hurt feelings once the haulers roll out of Alabama.

Joey Logano (5 wins / 3,095 points)
Chase Outlook: first 
Last week’s outlook: first 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 25.40
Martinsville: 10.83
Texas: 6.00
Chase Wins: Charlotte, Kansas

“Just one of those racing deals” is a phrase that often gets overused. Two drivers battling for the same piece of real estate can occasionally bump into one another with no one clearly at fault, but there is plenty of blame to go around in the Kenseth vs. Logano battle at Kansas. The only problem is that each side thinks they were blameless and ultimately both are going to lose. For Logano, that probably will not happen until 2016 and he should have a clear path to the final four this season.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 3,071 points)
Chase Outlook: second 
Last week’s outlook: second 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 15.20
Martinsville: 16.50
Texas: 12.67
Chase Wins: Dover

Harvick is not in a must-win situation this week like he was at Dover International Speedway, but he may as well be. Eleven of the 12 Chase drivers face elimination if they are involved in a "Big One" crash. If there is no multi-car accident and the CampingWorld.com 500 comes to the end with 30 or more cars on the lead lap, the potential for getting left out of the draft is equally devastating. Harvick is just as likely to lose enough points to get eliminated as anyone else in the field this week. If he survives, Phoenix International Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway count among his favorite tracks.

Denny Hamlin (2 wins / 3,082 points)
Chase Outlook: third 
Last week’s outlook: third 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 20.00
Martinsville: 13.60
Texas: 12.20
Chase Wins: Chicagoland

Hamlin is not making a lot of noise, but he is quietly getting the job done. He sits second in the standings and while at the same risk as everyone other than Logano, he at least has some cushion over the cutoff line. More importantly for fantasy owners seven of his last nine attempts ended in top-fives with one other sixth-place result tossed in for good measure. Ride his wave of momentum until it is exhausted.

Kurt Busch (2 wins / 3,077 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth 
Last week’s outlook: eighth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 20.00
Martinsville: 20.17
Texas: 20.50

Last week Busch was seeded near the bottom of the second group of four drivers. It seemed reasonable to think he would clear the Contender round hurdle, but struggle in the Eliminator. With a current points’ cushion and solid runs at Charlotte and Kansas, it now seems likely that another top-five at Texas will contribute to enough points to advance him all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the Cup.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 3,076 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth 
Last week’s outlook: fourth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 20.60
Martinsville: 15.83
Texas: 14.83

Edwards gets dropped one position this week simply because he has been outrun by the No. 41 in the last two races. Edwards crossed under the checkers one position back at Charlotte and two at Kansas but the final transfer spot will go through the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway and a pair of short, flat tracks. Qualifying for the final four will come down to who makes the least mistakes and a couple of points will make a huge difference.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 3,071 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth 
Last week’s outlook: fifth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 21.00
Martinsville: 14.50
Texas: 6.67

Drivers watch one another and several racers this year seem to have paid close attention to what Newman accomplished in 2014. They cannot all point their way conservatively to the next round, however, and without the ability to challenge for top-fives at will, it is difficult to imagine Keselowski advancing to the Homestead among the top four. He will be a good, solid value for fantasy owners, however, and will continue to score results in the high single digits or low-teens.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 3,070 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh 
Last week’s outlook: sixth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 12.80
Martinsville: 24.00
Texas: 12.50

Truex cut his teeth in the Cup series driving for first Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then Michael Waltrip Racing. Both organizations are powerhouses on plate tracks and without any catastrophes Truex should be able advance beyond Talladega. At the beginning of the year he ran strong on all three tracks that make up the Eliminator round, but he has been consistently slower in his second appearances on most other courses. He needs top-fives to advance but will score top-10s instead.

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 3,064 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth 
Last week’s outlook: seventh 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 23.50
Martinsville: 9.40
Texas: 4.80

Fantasy owners may want to hedge their bets in regard to Busch. He is strong enough to advance all the way to Homestead, but a tendency to push too hard oftentimes results in tragedy. This week it will take a "Big One" crash to eliminate the No. 18, but if he scrapes the wall and damages his car he could be in for a long afternoon. Either way it seems unlikely that he can race four consecutive weeks without making some kind of mistake.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 3,071 points)
Chase Outlook: ninth 
Last week’s outlook: 10th 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 24.20
Martinsville: 5.67
Texas: 21.33

A late-race restart at Talladega will cost Gordon the opportunity to advance to the Eliminator round, but once that pressure is off his shoulders he should race strong once again. For the first time since the 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the No. 24 team earned back-to-back top-10s at Charlotte and Kansas. They are improving and fantasy owners want to watch them closely—but this is going to be a case of too-little, too-late.

Matt Kenseth (5 wins / 3,035 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th 
Last week’s outlook: ninth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 18.40
Martinsville: 7.67
Texas: 7.67
Chase Wins: New Hampshire

Kenseth is racing with a lack of situational awareness and that will impact his ability to advance beyond the Contender round. Two weeks ago he either believed he had cleared Newman or that the driver of the No. 31 would lift and give him room to move up a groove. Newman does not lift for anyone. Last week he thought he could block Logano with impunity, but that also proved false. A similar decision in the next four races will cost him and will rob fantasy owners of a lot of points. 

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 3,062 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th 
Last week’s outlook: 11th 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 14.20
Martinsville: 21.67
Texas: 21.67

Few drivers have more determination than Newman, but he is not going to be able to will himself into top-five finishes. He got his Chase off to a strong start with a fifth at Chicagoland Speedway, but that is his only top-five in the last 23 races. Talladega has not been overly kind to him in the past and this time around it will mark his final race as a Chaser; with a career average of 20.4 this is his second-worst track behind Daytona International Speedway—the other restrictor-plate, superspeedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2 wins / 3,039 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th 
Last week’s outlook: 12th 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Talladega: 15.40
Martinsville: 15.50
Texas: 15.00

If anyone could call their shot on a plate track it would seem to be Earnhardt. He won the last two races on the big tracks and scored a third at Daytona. Winning three plate races in a row is almost unheard of in today’s NASCAR and unfortunately that is the only result that will get Junior to the next level.

 

Upcoming Tracks Average Finish, last three years, sorted by Chase so Far

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Talladega

Martinsville

Texas

|

Phoenix

Homestead

Kyle Busch

14.60

13.23

23.50

9.40

4.80

|

15.20

16.67

Matt Kenseth

13.80

12.08

18.40

7.67

12.50

|

12.50

8.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

17.80

14.23

15.40

15.50

15.00

|

13.83

9.00

Brad Keselowski

10.80

11.15

21.00

14.50

6.67

|

5.67

8.00

Ryan Newman

11.80

14.35

14.20

21.67

12.33

|

12.67

7.33

Joey Logano

4.20

13.31

25.40

10.83

6.00

|

13.33

12.67

Denny Hamlin

5.40

14.21

20.00

13.60

12.20

|

13.33

10.67

Carl Edwards

7.20

15.92

20.60

15.83

14.83

|

11.50

19.33

Kurt Busch

10.00

18.31

20.00

20.17

20.50

|

15.17

13.67

Martin Truex Jr.

10.00

16.85

12.80

24.00

12.50

|

21.33

9.00

Jeff Gordon

10.20

14.38

24.20

5.67

21.33

|

11.50

7.33

Kevin Harvick

16.40

11.08

15.20

16.50

12.67

|

3.00

6.33

 

Jamie McMurray

13.20

16.85

19.80

17.00

15.50

|

14.83

18.33

Jimmie Johnson

20.00

12.50

13.40

12.67

5.83

|

15.50

18.00

Clint Bowyer

22.00

13.00

12.80

6.50

14.83

|

21.83

5.00

Paul Menard

22.40

17.69

15.00

16.67

21.00

|

17.50

18.00

 

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Contender

Eliminator

Homestead

Kevin Harvick

16.40

11.08

8.50

7.83

6.33

Brad Keselowski

10.80

11.15

15.56

6.17

8.00

Matt Kenseth

13.80

12.08

13.00

12.50

8.67

Kyle Busch

14.60

13.23

19.25

10.00

16.67

Joey Logano

4.20

13.31

14.06

9.67

12.67

Denny Hamlin

5.40

14.21

15.29

12.82

10.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

17.80

14.23

17.24

14.42

9.00

Ryan Newman

11.80

14.35

13.61

12.50

7.33

Jeff Gordon

10.20

14.38

13.89

16.42

7.33

Carl Edwards

7.20

15.92

12.11

13.17

19.33

Martin Truex Jr.

10.00

16.85

12.00

16.92

9.00

Kurt Busch

10.00

18.31

17.22

17.83

13.67

 

Jimmie Johnson

20.00

12.50

14.50

10.67

18.00

Clint Bowyer

22.00

13.00

16.72

18.33

5.00

Jamie McMurray

13.20

16.85

17.28

15.17

18.33

Paul Menard

22.40

17.69

16.39

19.25

18.00

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.