In the round of 16, Martin Truex Jr. won two races and Kevin Harvick one. Both drivers were Chase Contenders. Because Truex won two races then one driver would be eliminated from the Round of 12 in the addition to the four originally planned. Martin Truex Jr. would have then eliminated a potential contender. In this case that driver was Austin Dillon the lowest in points of the 12 Chase drivers who did not win a race.
In the round of 12 (only 11 drivers), Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano won races. All were Chase Contenders. Kevin Harvick, because this was his second Chase win would eliminate a driver from the Round of 8. This is where it potentially gets confusing. Since there was only 11 drivers the bottom four are eliminated. They are Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Carl Edwards the next lowest in points of the Chase drivers who did not win a race would be eliminated due to Harvick’s win. This would leave Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick. Only six drivers because of the two multiple wins.
In the round of 8 (only 6 drivers), Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano won races. In this case Johnson and Logano had already won races so they would have eliminated two drivers from the final race (Race of four). Because a driver who wins in a round automatically moves on to the next round this would leave only Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano to fight it out at Homestead Miami for the Championship.
Although this format didn’t appear to eliminate the Champion from winning, it did change who was a contender for the Championship. It would have also changed the complexity and strategy of the last race. It puts an even greater emphasis on winning which is what NASCAR intended with this format.
Jimmie Johnson has as perfect a driver rating at Martinsville Speedway as a driver can have of 118.4. This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action from the Easter break. Does anyone have anything for Jimmie Johnson?
To reiterate a perfect driver rating is 150. The only way a driver can have a perfect rating is if they lead all the laps and win the race. It is impossible for a driver after many races, in this case 22 races to have a perfect rating. A dominating driver will have a rating of 120. Johnson is almost there.
“If it was up to me we would race at Martinsville more than two times a year, it’s a special place for me, and my Lowe’s team.” Johnson added, “I had a great weekend off with the family, we are still so excited to have won California and heading to one of my favorite tracks. I’m ready to get back behind the wheel.”
Martinsville is one of the hardest tracks in NASCAR. That is what makes Johnson’s driver rating so impressive. There is hope though.
Denny Hamlin, the winner of this race last year, also has an impressive driver rating of 110. Of active drivers Hamlin is second only to Johnson in wins with five to his eight. Jimmie Johnson has not won this race since the spring of 2013.
“I think it will be another fight this weekend to get the win at Martinsville. We have had a lot of success over the years at that track and seem to battle the same guys each year for the win.” Hamlin added, “Jimmie (Johnson) is obviously strong there and our teammates will be tough to beat. Friday’s qualifying is big in terms of getting a good pit stall and on Sunday it’s important to have a mistake-free race. Any sort of issue or penalty can get you a couple laps down in a hurry and spoil a good day. I believe our FedEx Camry will be up front competing for another win.”
As Denny Hamlin noted it is important to have a mistake-free race. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick will be there to pounce and scoop up the win. Last year Joey Logano and his teammate Brad Keselowski worked well together but just couldn’t get it done in spite of leading many laps between them in both races. They will also be a factor. If any of these drivers can qualify up front and race mistake free they will have something for Johnson or Hamlin.
If you cannot get to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 it will be broadcast live on FS1 Sunday April 3rd, 2016 at 1 PM ET.
Last week as Martinsville Speedway, Matt Kenseth exacted his revenge on Joey Logano because he didn’t like how Logano was racing him the last few weeks (or longer). NASCAR has decided to come down hard in their penalties for Kenseth’s actions on the track.
“Based upon our extensive review, we have concluded that the No. 20 car driver (Kenseth), who is no longer in the Chase, intentionally wrecked the No. 22 car driver (Logano), a Chase-eligible competitor who was leading the race at the time,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “The No. 20 car was nine laps down, and eliminated the No. 22 car’s opportunity to continue to compete in the race. Additionally, we factored aspects of safety into our decision, and also the fact that the new Chase elimination format puts a premium on each and every race. These actions have no place in NASCAR.”
NASCAR has penalized Matt Kenseth hard. Kenseth has been given a two race suspension meaning he will miss this week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and the next week at Phoenix International Raceway. He is also on probation for the next six months. There were no monetary fines or loss of points because the result of missing two races far exceeds any monetary fine or loss of points.
“These actions have no place in NASCAR.” Steve O’Donnell is right. Racing for a win or even a position on the track, getting together and perhaps wrecking is one thing. As Brian France the Chairman of NASCAR said “That’s quintessential NASCAR.” Hunting down a driver only to extract revenge is another.
NASCAR has spoken. “Boys , have at it!” has a limit attached. Racing hard for position while bumping and banging with perhaps wrecking is acceptable and encouraged. Going out and intentionally wrecking someone is not.
A few weeks ago NASCAR drivers Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano were racing for the win at Kansas Speedway. Matt Kenseth blocked the faster Logano and Logano charged to move him out of the way and win the race. This is the type of racing fans want and NASCAR wants for the fans. In a way this is the ultimate NASCAR; the faster car racing the slower car at the end of a race for the win.
Fast forward a couple weeks. Matt Kenseth races hard at Martinsville Speedway even though he is now out of the hunt for the Sprint Cup Championship; not directly from the events at Kansas but Kansas didn’t help. He is having a great day at arguably one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR. He races to the front along with Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski.
In spite of this being the “Knock out Chase” with both Penske teammates in it. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were working together. Logano took the outside line on the restarts expecting Keselowski who restarted in second to let him in in the front. They did just that; the ultimate teammate play. In a way not teammates have every worked that hard together in such a critical race.
“I got hit from behind and pushed me into the 20 and my right-front wheel hit Kenseth’s left-rear and it just broke the right-front suspension off the car.” Keselowski added, “The car wouldn’t turn and just kept going straight until I couldn’t do anything and I started wrecking everybody. I just didn’t have any steering wheel left.”
After that Matt Kenseth had had enough! When he got back on the track and was laps down after Logano, who was the race leader passed him, Kenseth drove in deep and got into the left rear corner of Logano and drove him into the corner, ending his day and possibly his Championship contention.
I love NASCAR, I love payback but there is a fine line where payback becomes bad sportsmanship. This was that pure and simple. There is a difference between making it difficult for a competitor and driving them into the wall.
“Yeah. I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal. We were racing for the win and he blocks you a few times and then we raced hard and he blocked me the last time and we spun out. That’s what happened there.” Logano added, “Here it was just a complete coward move, especially for a championship race car driver and race team. Just a complete coward. I don’t have anything else to say. It’s a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.”
I could leave it at that but Matt Kenseth didn’t own up to it. Whether you like it or not respect can also come from owning up to what happened. He didn’t, he put a spin on it.
Kenseth said, “Well it’s a really disappointing day. I thought we were going to have a shot at the win there and they were jacking up the restart real bad to let each other in as teammates which is fine and I probably went in there and I got on the other side of Joey (Logano) and I was going to try to race him for the win and Brad (Keselowski) wiped me out for some reason. I’m not really sure why. And then we had so much damage on the right front I should have probably just put it in the garage and just got into (turn) 1 and couldn’t get it to turn and ran Joey over. So, disappointing ending for sure.”
Make no mistake about it. Joey Logano has taken it to them. He has won the last three races, qualified on the pole for this race, led the most laps and was on the way to win a record breaking four races in a row. Matt Kenseth made no friends here. The only thing he can feel good about is putting Jeff Gordon into contention for the Championship at Homestead Miami in three weeks.
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.