By Steve Mickey
The Contender Round’s second stop at Kansas on Sunday turned into another dominating performance by Penske Racing’s Joey Logano. It was the second consecutive trip to victory lane for Logano as he had already secured his advancing into the Eliminator Round with his victory at Charlotte.
Sunday’s Kansas win by Logano now leaves only one opportunity for a driver to automatically advance to the next round with a win regardless of where he is in the points. That opportunity will be this weekend when the series will roll into the restrictor plate track at Talladega.
Kyle Busch (6 points behind eighth-place driver), Ryan Newman (-8), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-31) and Matt Kenseth (-35) must now go to Talladega and race their way in at one of the toughest stops on the entire Sprint Cup schedule. Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth will take the green flag knowing that their deficits are so large that the only way they can transfer on in the Chase is by capturing the checkered flag.
While the majority of the Chase drivers would rather be racing at another track with so much on the line, Dale Jr. is probably the one driver that is glad the last free pass into the Eliminator Round is being held at Talladega. He is tied with Jeff Gordon as having the most wins at the track with six trips to victory lane and his 15.1 finishing average also leads all drivers. Even when he doesn’t capture the checkered flag, he has shown some remarkable consistency with eleven top-5 finishes in his career.
Kenseth has had some success at Talladega but not enough to make you think he enters the race as one of the drivers to beat. He has posted one Talladega win but only has six top-5 finishes. His average finishing position is 18 and his average starting position is 19.9.
Martin Truex Jr. now sits in the final transfer spot with a slim six and eight point cushion over Busch and Newman. That small margin can be easily made up with the results of one race but Truex Jr. is not the only driver that is in danger of falling out of the top-8. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski are all just one point ahead of Truex and will take the green flag Sunday knowing that they will have to do some points racing to ensure that they will be one of the eight drivers that will move into the next round.
Gordon’s history at the track makes him the favorite out of that trio of drivers who are one point ahead of eighth place. Besides being tied with Earnhardt Jr. for the most wins, he leads all drivers with 15 top-five finishes. He is tied for seventh with an average finishing position of 17.3 but seems to always show up on qualifying day as he is second among Chase drivers with a 12.0 average starting position.
Denny Hamlin (+18 ahead of ninth), Kurt Busch (+13) and Carl Edwards (+12) will start the race knowing that they have a small cushion but like every other Chase driver they know they must not get caught up in one of the track’s famous “big ones”. Talladega is one of the few tracks that doesn’t play favorites when it comes to turning a run in between two drivers into a multi-car pileup that can collect a large portion of the field.
CHASE NOTES: If any position in the standings comes down to a tiebreaker, only the three races in the Contender round will be used. If two or more drivers are tied for a position and they haven’t won during the round, the tiebreaker will come down to which driver has the most second-place finishes, third-place finishes and continue until the tie is broken. If two drivers have the exact same finishes, the tiebreaker then goes to the driver who scored the best finish first.
Event: CampingWorld.com 500
Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33o of banking in the turns)
Date: Oct. 25, 2:00 pm
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski