By Steve Mickey
The Contender Round got underway one day late after the Bank of America 500 was postponed from its scheduled Saturday night start to Sunday afternoon. When the green flag finally did wave, Team Penske’s Joey Logano wasted very little time in punching his ticket into the Elimination Round with a dominating performance that saw him lead 227 of the 334 laps.
Kevin Harvick who had to win last week at Dover just to get into the Contender Round got off to a much better start than at the Chase opening race at Chicagoland Speedway as he recorded his eleventh runner-up finish of the season. Going into the Chase, he was the driver that the rest of the Chase field had labeled as the driver to beat and the results of the last two weeks has done nothing but support that line of thinking.
Rounding out the top-five were Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. Finishing one spot behind Busch was Carl Edwards but because he led one lap, he finished tied in the points with Busch for the fifth spot, nine points behind Logano. Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski finished eighth and ninth which was good enough to put them in the final two transfer spots that would move them into the Elimination Round.
Just like what we saw take place in the opening round of the Chase after one race, the Contender Round has already identified four drivers that must now play catch up going into Kansas this weekend. Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Matt Kenseth are all outside of the top-8 in points but only Kenseth is in the position that the only way he could transfer to the next round would be by winning one of the next two races as a 42nd place finish left him 32 points out of the eighth spot in the Chase standings.
Newman is six and Kyle Busch is ten points from the eighth spot so even though a win would be nice, they will be able to race for points over the next two races with an eye on moving into the top-8. Dale Earnhardt Jr who is 19 points from the eighth spot will have to have a couple of drivers now in the top-8 experience some bad luck in order for him to race his way into the next round without winning one of the next two races.
Every Chase driver knows that they will have more of a say in where they finish this week at Kansas than they will the following week at Talladega. The annual Chase race at Talladega has always been considered one of those wild card like races where the outcome of the race is not entirely in the hands of the driver. Restrictor plate racing is usually characterized by what has become known as the “big one” where as many as a dozen cars can get caught up in the misfortunes of just one driver. Knowing that you have to go into Talladega and win is a tall order as winning usually requires the help of another driver and often times the winner has to overcome at least one green-white-checkered flag finish.
CHASE NOTES: Jeff Gordon will be going to one of his best tracks this week at Kansas where he has posted three previous wins. His 9.9 finishing average is the best of any driver as is his series best driver rating of 100.5. Kyle Busch who will enter Kansas knowing that he must drive his way into the top-8 will take the green flag at one of his worst tracks. In 15 starts at the track, his 3 top 10’s are the fewest among Chase drivers and his average finish of 21.4 is the worst of the twelve remaining Chase drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. who like Busch may need a win in the next two races but while he is winless at Kansas in his career, his expertise on the restrictor plate tracks will make him one of the favorites to visit victory lane the following week at Talladega.
Event: Hollywood Casino 400
Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval, 17o-200 of banking in the turns)
Date: Oct. 18, 2:30 PM
Defending Champion: Joey Logano