Kansas became the wild card
The Contender Round of races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega got underway on Sunday at the mile-and-a-half track of Kansas Speedway and the results now have many of the favorites to win the title scrambling with just two races left before the Chase field is reduced to eight. Kansas and Charlotte were expected to keep the Chase field favorites near the top heading into Talladega with that race playing the role of wild card where the outcome can be so unpredictable.
Talladega in two weeks was supposed to be the one race in the Contender Round where the results could totally reshape the Chase standings and the eight drivers that will move on to the Eliminator Round that will eventually reduce the field to four drivers. Talladega’s use of the restrictor plate puts the entire field of 43 drivers on even ground with the chance of becoming one of NASCAR’s newest terms, a Chase- Buster.
Chase-Buster is the now being used to describe any non-Chase driver that finishes in the top 10, thus taking away precious points from a driver that is still in the hunt to become this season’s champion. Kyle Larson on Sunday became the poster boy for a Chase-Buster as he finished second after challenging Joey Logano during the final laps for the win. Every point that a Chase-Buster earns ahead of a Chase driver in the top 10 could be the reason that he is eliminated at the end of the Contender Round.
The results from Kansas showed that sometimes it is not a Chase-Buster that shakes up the standings, sometimes it’s just not a driver’s day. But either way the results are still the same. Seven of the dozen Chase drivers that took the green flag at Kansas experienced problems either of their own or another driver’s action.
Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson all experienced trouble on Sunday that has left them scrambling in their efforts to continue a run at the title. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson took a big hit in his quest to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. with seven titles when he had contact from Greg Biffle that put him into the wall on lap 85, forcing him to the garage and an eventual 40th place finish. He now limps into Charlotte in the 12th position, 27 points from the eighth spot that is the final transfer spot to the next round.
Dale Jr. was leading the race when he had a tire unravel that sent him into the wall with enough damage that, like Johnson, forced him behind the wall for repairs leaving him 63 laps off the lead lap. His 39th place finish leaves him in 11th place in the standings, 25 points out of being in the top 8.
Keselowski started the first round of the Chase with a victory at Chicago that locked him into this round, but a 36th place finish on Sunday now has him 22 points out of eighth in the 10th spot. He, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson face the possibility of failing to advance if they cannot earn a trip to victory lane at either Charlotte or Talladega.
Winning, like it has been all season long, is the quickest way to keep a driver’s championship dreams alive, but only three drivers will have the opportunity to do that after Talladega. The remaining five spots will be earned on points and there were several drivers that got off to great starts with their finish on Sunday.
Ryan Newman had to be the big winner at Kansas as he entered the race without a win on the season but a sixth place finish now has him in fourth, only nine points from the lead. He has a 16-point cushion ahead of Kasey Kahne in ninth that allows him a little more breathing room and the ability to points race in the next two races
Event: Bank of America 500
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
(1.5-mile tri-oval, 240 of banking in
Date: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski