Tag Archives: Carl Edwards

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

From Junk to Gold, Denny Hamlin Wins the Chase Race at Chicagoland

The first NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup race is in the record books. Denny Hamlin has won the myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway capping off a weekend that didn’t start out the way it was intended.

On Friday, the number eleven FedEx Ground Toyota hit the track for the first practice full of hope but unable to get out of its own way. Dave Rogers, Hamlin’s crew chief, made wholesale changes to the car prior to qualifying. Qualifying was canceled due to rain and his troubles in that one practice were magnified because the field was set by practice speeds. Denny Hamlin would have to start the race today 29th, the last of the Chase drivers.

Rogers said, “We did have a lot of adversity.  You know in the Chase you’re going to have adversity, it’s going to strike.  We’ve been talking about it, been trying to mentally prepare for it.

In Saturday’s practices it was apparent that the team was able to fix whatever was wrong with the No. 11. Hamlin was the second fastest in the first practice and seventh fastest in the final practice. A great improvement but he still had his less than desirable starting position to contend with.

Indeed, his starting position became a problem right from the start. On lap two, the No. 47 AJ Allmendinger car got into the right front of Hamlin’s car, sending him for a spin. He was able to save it and not get hit by any other cars so there was little or no damage. He did go a lap down.

On lap 130 just after a restart on lap 128, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin used strategy to try and get their laps back by staying out and not pitting. This was a risky strategy given the lack of caution flags in the beginning of the race and record pace the leaders had been setting. That strategy paid off on lap 137 when Kevin Harvick hit the wall hard after cutting down a tire; this put both of them on the same pit strategy and tires with the other lead lap cars.

There was a caution flag with ten laps to go and Hamlin’s team had confusion whether to pit or not. He ended up staying out, what at the time looked like a disastrous move. Denny Hamlin restarted third and drove it like he stole it taking Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon three wide. It stuck and he held them off for the three laps even though he had older tires.

It was ballsy, but I’d been stuck so many times three-wide in the middle. The front cars almost have a disadvantage to the back cars the way it all plays out.”  Hamlin added “We got a great restart and I just held it wide open through (turns) one and two and it stuck. We were able to get in that clean air and take off.

Denny Hamlin has tied Chicago Area Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time wins list with 26 wins.

Carl Edwards finished second followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.

Denny Hamlin has now punched his ticket straight to the next round of the Chase, The Contender Round. The team can now use the next two races to continue to get better for the next two rounds.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 312813 Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images

The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway

The regular season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is over. 26 races with 11 individual winners, eight who won multiple times, the Chase Contenders have been decided. The first of the three elimination rounds in the NASCAR playoff format begins at Chicagoland Speedway.

There are 16 contenders for the Championship. Their standings in the points have been reset based on the number of races they have won during the regular season. Those drivers with no wins start with 2000 points. Those drivers with wins get an additional 3 points for each win.

1 Jimmie Johnson 2012
2 Kyle Busch 2012
3 Matt Kenseth 2012
4 Joey Logano 2009
5 Kevin Harvick 2006
6 Dale Earnhardt Jr 2006
7 Kurt Busch 2006
8 Carl Edwards 2006
9 Brad Keselowski 2003
10 Martin Truex Jr 2003
11 Denny Hamlin 2003
12 Jamie McMurray 2000
13 Jeff Gordon 2000
14 Ryan Newman 2000
15 Paul Menard 2000
16 Clint Bowyer 2000

The Challenger Round begins at Chicagoland Speedway then moves on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway the next week and then Dover International Speedway the week after. The four Chase contenders who are lowest in points after Dover will be eliminated from the Chase.

The “Rub” as they say is that any of these drivers who win a race regardless of their point standings gets a pass on this round. If that driver happens to be one of those lower in points then it is possible to be 12th in points and still miss the next round. It is highly unlikely but can happen that the three races could be won by a driver at the bottom of the standings so 10th place may not be safe either.

Looking at the reset points Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer really are starting in a hole even though it is only three points. Three points equals three positions on the race track. There are no bonus points for leading laps, only for winning races. It makes these races much easier to follow.

The new Chase Format puts an emphasis on winning but in reality due to the elimination feature teams must be on top of their game each and every week. Brad Keselowski put this feeling into perspective.

We are ready to go. We have some momentum with the top-10’s lately but we need to turn some of those into wins and we know that. We have 10 weeks though to make that happen. We want to be in the Chase and we want to not take that for granted but on the other side we aren’t just happy with just being in it. We want to do more than just that. That is what we are here to do, to make some noise and hopefully bring home a second championship.

Keselowski knows how it works as much as anyone. He opened the Chase at Chicagoland last year with a three wide pass to win and guarantee himself into the Contender Round. He followed that up with a win in the last race of that round at Talladega to move himself into the Eliminator Round. He wasn’t able to back that effort up in that round and was seven points shy and eliminated from the Championship.

Click on this link to read more on Strategies to Win the Championship.

None of these drivers are going to win the Championship at Chicagoland Speedway but they can dig themselves into a hole. A big hole, one of which the only way to crawl out of is by winning one of the next two races.

Let the Challenger Round begin. It is going to be a great one.

If you cannot get to Chicagoland Speedway for the myAFibRisk.com 400 it will be broadcast on NBCSN on Sunday September 20th starting at 3 PM ET.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 312197 Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Will Hendrick Continue or Roush Return to Form at Michigan?

To say that Roush Fenway Racing has made the Michigan International Speedway their playground in NASCAR is an understatement. Since 2002, a Roush driver has won nine races, one race every year from 2002 to 2008 plus a race in 2012 and 2013. They have more race wins at Michigan than any other Sprint Cup team.

Greg Biffle is the most recent Roush driver to lead the charge. Biffle leads all active drivers with four wins there. His most recent win goes back to this race in 2013. His statistics for Michigan are like Jimmie Johnson’s are at many of the other speedways. He has a driver rating of 107.1, an average finish of 10.9. His average running position of 8.9 is incredible.

In 2014 the Roush Fenway Racing Drivers of Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr had their worst showing ever in this race. Greg Biffle led the team with a finish of 20th followed by Edwards 23rd and Stenhouse 27th. No laps lead and equally painful qualifying positions. In the August race those same drivers did a little better. Biffle scrambled for a 10th place finish, Stenhouse 15th and Edwards 23rd again. In Roush Fenway Racing standards their showing at Michigan last year was dismal.

Meanwhile, Hendrick Motorsports drivers of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon took full advantage of the opportunity to win the races at Michigan. In fact all four of the Hendrick cars were in the top ten in June and three of the four in August; Jimmie Johnson 1st and 9th, Jeff Gordon 6th and 1st, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 7th and 5th and Kasey Kahne 5th and 16th.

This season Jimmie Johnson has won at three of the five 1.5 speedways but those he didn’t win he had issues leading to damage. Johnson finished 9th at Fontana, Michigan’s 2 mile sister speedway. Stewart Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick has also dominated the 1.5 mile speedways including coming in 2nd at Fontana. They are also a Hendrick associated team.

This weekend all eyes will be on Roush Fenway Racing at their home track. Greg Biffle has shown some improvement this season but overall the Roush teams are still struggling. This weekend will tell the story whether or not there has been any improvement. In the mean time it looks like the Hendrick teams have an edge to continue where they left off last season.

If you cannot get to Michigan International Speedway Sunday, June 14th 2015 for the Quicken Loans 400 it will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 starting at 1:00 PM ET.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 304998 Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

Statistics for Michigan International Speedway

Rank Car No. Driver Name Average Finish Driver Rating
1 16 Greg Biffle 10.9 107.1
2 48 Jimmie Johnson 15.3 102.5
3 20 Matt Kenseth 11.7 101.3
4 99 Carl Edwards 9.7 100.5
5 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12.7 98
6 14 Tony Stewart 10.1 95.8
7 24 Jeff Gordon 15.4 93.6
8 22 Joey Logano 14.9 91.8
9 4 Kevin Harvick 11.5 90.2
10 41 Kurt Busch 21.3 89.9
11 2 Brad Keselowski 14.8 89
12 5 Kasey Kahne 17.1 89
13 18 Kyle Busch 18.9 88.3
14 11 Denny Hamlin 15.3 88.2
15 55 Brian Vickers 17 86.3
16 15 Clint Bowyer 14.6 82.5

 

Strategies to Win the NASCAR Sprint Cup

Last year NASCAR changed the rules on how to win the Championship the Sprint Cup. The goal of those changes was to make the Chase races more exciting. To put a do or die component in like other sports have where your championship efforts are over when you lose a game.  In the 2011 season where Tony Stewart won five races in the Chase and beat Carl Edwards to win the last race of the Chase and the Championship. This was the closest championship in history. To have a Championship get settled on the last lap of the last race of the season, that is what the new Chase is all about.

The Chase consists of three rounds of three races each after which four drivers would be eliminated. The catch was that any driver who wins a race in a round automatically moves forward to the next round. The final four drivers would compete for all the marbles in the last race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Winning a race, this is where some of the drivers and fans got caught. It seems simple. Win and move on. The problem that was overlooked by some was that the risk for racing for that win is greater than the reward, especially in the early rounds.

Points Racing: In reality one can points race. That is race in such a way as to out point the opponents. Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin did not win races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup but managed to make it to the final round at Homestead Miami Speedway. They finished 2nd and 3rd in the championship standings by out pointing their opponents throughout the Chase.

Racing for the Win: Jeff Gordon was racing for the win at Texas Motor Speedway and Brad Keselowski wanted it more. Gordon didn’t back down and wrecked his car. He ended up 29th in the race giving the competition at least 10 points but more importantly moving himself into about a four way tie for the fourth and final spot for the final race.

When the race ended at Phoenix, Jeff Gordon was tied with eventual Champion Kevin Harvick and one point behind Ryan Newman. Harvick made the last and final round by winning the race at Phoenix. Ryan Newman made the last final round as the last driver in on points.  If Gordon would have let Keselowski pass he would have made the last round of the Chase. He would have had a chance for his fifth championship.

Wrap Up: Although winning is always good, at the end of each round in the Chase it appeared that winning was something better left to desperation. Even in the last round of the Chase, the Eliminator Round, there were three spots available to make it to the final on points. Watch for teams to pay more attention to points and who they are actually racing against to move on to each and every round. The racing back in the field is more important than it has ever been.

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: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images