All you have to look at to understand what one race can do for a driver in the 10-race Chase is to look at the last two weeks that Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski has had.
Keselowski’s seventh place finish at Charlotte last week sent him to Kansas with a 25-point cushion ahead of the cutoff point for moving into the Round of Eight.
What seemed like a safe cushion for Keselowski evaporated very quickly at Kansas, where he finished 38th after his Ford suffered heavy damage after sliding through the infield grass. The poor finish dropped him to 11th place in the standings, seven points out of being in the top-8 that will advance after next weekend’s race at Talladega. That is a 32-point swing in only one race and with only Talladega remaining before the field is cut from twelve to eight drivers, the pressure of winning becomes greater for not only Keselowski but several other drivers as making up a point difference in a short three-race round is proving to be very difficult.
Joey Logano and Austin Dillon both had trouble last week at Charlotte and finished out of the top 30, but both were able to come back at Kansas and post good finishes. Logano was six points out of the final transfer spot of eighth in the standings and even though he finished third at Kansas he was only able to make up six points but he now sits tied for the eighth spot with Dillion who made up a three point deficit with a sixth place finish. Logano would be awarded eighth because of the tiebreakers that NASCAR uses.
As you can see, it is easier to lose points than to make up points in the three-race Chase format. Seven of the 12 drivers still running for the title finished in the top 10 at Kansas, making it very difficult for any driver to make up a large number of points in one race. That is one of the best features of the Chase because it showcases the top drivers going up against each other each week.
Now just because a driver is outside of the bubble doesn’t mean that they don’t have a chance to advance after next weekend’s race. Kevin Harvick’s win at Kansas once again showed us that the best way to overcome a bad race is to go out the next weekend and grab the checkered flag. Harvick left Charlotte in last place among the Chase drivers, eight points from being in the top 8, after finishing 38th. He now joins Jimmie Johnson as the only two drivers who will take the green flag at Talladega knowing that regardless of where they finish, they will be advancing to the Round of Eight because both have posted wins in the first two races of the Round of 12.
Matt Kenseth who is 29 points ahead of the ninth spot and Kyle Busch who has a 27-point cushion over the cutoff spot are the only drivers who would have what would be considered a comfortable lead if they were going to any other track than one that mandates the use of a restrictor plate. After seeing Keselowski lose 32 points in one race, points racing could be dangerous as no spot seems safe.
The good news for Keselowski is that he leads all drivers with the number of Talladega wins in his career with four in fifteen races. His 13.9 finishing average at Talladega is also the best of the twelve Chase drivers that have more than one start at the track. Rookie Chase Elliott has a 5.0 finishing average but he has only raced once at the track but it is good news for him as he sits in twelfth in the standings and at 25 points below the cutoff line, winning on Sunday will probably be his only way of advancing into the next round.
Race Preview Event: Alabama 500. Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33o of banking in the turns). Date: Oct. 23, 2 p.m. TV: NBCSN. Radio: MRN. Defending Race Winner: Joey Logano.