Let’s do this again, The Eliminator Round that is

The first two rounds of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup are in the record books. There is no doubt that the knock out format of the Chase has amped up the intensity and drama; exactly what they had in mind.

The Eliminator Round is the last round of three races where NASCAR will eliminate four of the eight drivers from contention for the Championship. The opening race is the Goody’s Headache Relief 500 at the paper clipped shaped Martinsville Speedway; a short track known for drivers executing payback for past offenses.

Joey Logano did what many thought was the perfect strategy to eliminate ones completion in these knock out rounds of the Chase. He won all three of the Contender Rounds, a feat that didn’t seem possible given the high intensity of the Chase. He didn’t make any friends along the way so he may have to watch his back this week and we will watch too.

We’re all tied.  The advantage we do have that no one else has is that we have confidence, we have momentum and we know the recipe to win.” Logano added, “That’s more than anyone can say at least in the last three races, but there is still a lot of very good race teams in this obviously that are very fast and that we’ll be competing against all the way to the end.

Kevin Harvick, the reigning Champion, struggled in the Contender Round to stay at the top of the standings in order to move on. He struggled on the track, with luck and with equipment. Somehow when all the smoked cleared at Talladega he was a few points ahead of ninth and into the next round. He didn’t make many friends by staying on the track there with a wounded car but that is what you do to maximize points in the regular season and that is what you do to win championships.

I feel like we’ve been as sloppy as we’ve been in two years, since I’ve been involved in this race team, and we’re still hanging around.  I feel like our pit crew is on point.” Harvick added, “We’ve had speed in the cars.  Those have been really the only two things that have been 100%.  Physically I haven’t been 100%.  We’ve had some parts failures and things go wrong with those pieces of it not being 100%.

It is Jeff Gordon’s last year competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In the Chase he has been doing what he needs to but has been overshadowed by Harvick and Logano. With only eight drivers in this round and four being eliminated he will have to be making some noise on his own. Martinsville is the perfect place to start as he has the highest average finish of 6.9 and average running position of 6.7 over all the other drivers.

I think for us, we’re carrying just a lot of confidence and momentum and pride right now knowing that we’ve had to grind it out just to get ourselves in the Chase.”  Gordon added, “That grind and that fight that we have in us is what we’ve been putting out there these last six weeks that have gotten us to this round. Now we get to continue that fight and grind, but we get to go do it at some tracks that we legitimately have a shot at competing for wins. I’m pretty excited that we’re where we’re at and that we’ve made it this far.

Kevin Harvick, races to a fifteenth place finish with Jeff Gordon, who finished in third place at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, races to a fifteenth place finish with Jeff Gordon, who finished in third place at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)

The other five drivers of Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch have to step it up just like Gordon if they are to catch Harvick or Logano. Harvick (1) and Logano (3) are the only drivers who have won a race this year in the Chase who are left in contention.

Some people have said that this new “Knock Out” Chase format has created a Circus like atmosphere at the track. That is wrong. This format created the kind of intensity that had gotten lost in the old format. More drivers are in contention to win the Championship than ever before. The stakes are higher for them each and every race. If you don’t believe that you only need to look at the points without the Chase resets. According to Jayski.com, Joey Logano would be 49 points or about one full race ahead of Kevin Harvick. He would also be 123 points ahead of third place Brad Keselowski. It would only take utter disaster and a run like Logano had in the last three races by Harvick for Logano to lose the Championship in that scenario.

Let’s hope the Eliminator Round is as exciting and controversial as the previous rounds and what a place to start it, Martinsville Speedway.

If you cannot get to Martinsville Speedway for the Goody’s Headache Relief 500 it will be broadcast live on NBCSN, Sunday November 1st at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary.

Feature Photo Credit: 313662 Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images

Joey Logano has come into his own and is on his way to a Championship

Last week Joey Logano won at Charlotte Motor Speedway to solidify his spot in the NASCAR Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He didn’t stop there. He went on to win at Kansas Speedway in order to keep any other competitor from locking himself into that next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Logano’s trip is not without controversy. In the final laps he was in second place to Matt Kenseth. Kenseth was doing all he could do to keep the faster Logano behind. He took his line up high and then took the low line when he moved down. Joey Logano did what Kenseth did in order to protect his position on the track. Unfortunately, Kenseth was spun out and finished 14th.

There wasn’t too many seasons ago when Logano wouldn’t have done that. Not that he did anything wrong. Kenseth was blocking. Blocking like Tony Stewart bitches about but does the same. Now that I said that, I can also say I don’t blame Matt Kenseth one bit. That is how it’s done, and to some extent Joey Logano learned it and dealt with it.

Roger Penske said, “I saw a couple times Joey got squeezed off of two and I think over in three, and as they went down into one Joey had a fender up inside.  He was on the outside of the 20 and he got in the wall.  I don’t know if you saw that or not, and then he turned down, Joey did, to take the lower lane and there was another car up there – I think a slower car – and then Kenseth came down.  Unfortunately, they got together.  I don’t like to see that any more than anybody else does.  It’s one of those racing accidents.  It’s real tough when it’s in this kind of a situation, but there was no question that Kenseth was doing everything he could to keep Joey from going by.

Joey Logano said, “Yeah, it’s hard racing.  With 15 to go I got to the outside of him down the backstretch, and I had to lift not to wreck both of us at that point, and then kind of got put in the same situation down the front stretch, and then we just happened to go in the same corner and we both went for the same piece of real estate.  I wanted that middle lane and so did he, and we collided there.  So good hard racing, you know.  We ran each other hard.  He ran me hard, I ran him hard back.  That’s just the type of driver I am, the type of racer I’m going to be, and it just comes to that point sometimes to — it’s unfortunate that those things happen, you know, and it’s just hard to — it doesn’t take anything away from our win today.”

This is racing, racing that NASCAR has given us via the Chase, and I love it. We not only have actually racing for a Championship late in the season but we have defensive racing in order to keep a competitor from making a Championship run. Joey Logano has now taken it to an even higher level in the second year of this knock out format of the Chase. He won two races in a round keeping others from guaranteeing themselves a spot in the next round.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 313485 Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Kevin Harvick the Legend

Kevin Harvick led the whole regular season, the clear winner for the NASCAR Championship. Harvick won the regular season by 30 points over Joey Logano. He took that confidence with him into the Chase.

In the opening media event prior to the Chase, Kevin Harvick called out the Joe Gibbs Racing teams who had been his only apparent competition the last few races before the Chase. “I think we’re going to pound them into the ground,” Harvick said. “That’s what I think. Hopefully, they can beat themselves.

It didn’t happen that way. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race of the Chase after Harvick raced his fellow Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson too hard and cut a tire to fall way back on his bid to repeat as Champion.

The next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick was again racing at the front to continue his effort to a second Championship only to run out of fuel at the end of the race. Matt Kenseth, another Joe Gibbs Racing driver capitalized on this to move himself into the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. At this point it was apparent that Kevin Harvick would be plagued by his words to open the Championship. He also was in a very deep hole in points putting himself in a must win position at Dover International Speedway, a track he has never won at before and one he has not done well at.

There was other wisdom that Harvick uttered prior to Chicagoland that, he is glad held no truth. Harvick said about the Joe Gibbs teams, “Well, you can’t be good once every three weeks.  You got to be good for 10 weeks.  I know those guys have run fast.  It’s been a different Gibbs car that we’ve raced against for the last 10 weeks.  As a company, they’ve had some good success in winning races, but it hasn’t been the same car.

Well Kevin Harvick has done exactly what he said wouldn’t work. He has run good once every three weeks and has won at Dover to move himself up into the Contender round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Above all else Kevin Harvick has created a legend, one of a fierce competitor who never lets circumstances change his demeanor and approach to the task at hand. He used to be called the closer or “where did he come from” at the end of races. Now he will be called that about finishing championships. How else can one, who has never won at a track, step it up to seemingly do the impossible to stay alive in order to win a championship?

“Oh yeah. Anytime you can go through moments like this and gain some momentum and prove to yourself that you can do things like this, there’s no way you can’t be stronger. I’m just do proud of those guys and so proud of our fans and everybody for all their support all week.” Harvick added, “There it is, stay the course. That’s what he (Tony Stewart) always says. Tony is just one of those guys who always puts everybody before him and that’s really what makes Stewart-Haas what it is. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of this team.”

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing

The Time I Almost Met Tony Stewart

Unless you have been living under a rock, Tony Stewart announced this week that he will retire at the end of the next NASCAR season. Clint Bowyer will take over duties of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet. It was not expected but it was just the same.

I have never been a NASCAR fan who was into any one particular driver or drivers in general. I have always been into cars and the racing. That took me and my racing buddy who got me into this craziness to Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP). Racing in Indianapolis took us from watching, what was then the Busch series at IRP and the Brickyard 400 to watching the same plus the Trucks at IRP. In 2004 we stepped it up to also watch the USAC Silver Crown race at IRP on Thursday night.

If you had ever gone to the USAC Silver Crown race at IRP it was a big deal; but more importantly if you had a ticket you also had access to the track and infield prior to the race. Many NASCAR drivers who, like Tony Stewart, came up through USAC, raced in this race and were there. We took advantage of that.

We went into the infield and started walking around the inside of pit road. We saw a lot of famous NASCAR drivers and soon to be famous NASCAR drivers. This is the place to be for hardcore racing fans.

We came upon Tony Stewart and my friend says “Hey, lets go talk to Tony”. I answered back “No way! He is working on his car.” So we didn’t.

There in front of us was Stewart changing his tire on his own car. There was no one helping and no one standing by watching. That is the Tony Stewart I know; someone who, as famous as he was, just wanted to race and worked on his own car. He was alone; no public relations people, no handlers, just there to have fun and race. Though I didn’t meet him that day I will always remember that. When they say you are judged by your actions and not your words, that is totally true.

Tony Stewart, I wish you nothing but the best the rest of this year and your final year racing in NASCAR. I enjoyed watching you race and your passion for racing. I’m sure the racing fans will miss you; I know I will.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 313029 Racing Photo Archives/Getty Images