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.“
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.
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