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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Charlotte (Fall)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

One of the drivers most fantasy owners had ranked near the top of the grid failed to advance last week at Dover, but it was not the one with the longest odds. Jimmie Johnson entered the AAA 400 with a 25-point advantage over the cutoff line and simply needed to run anywhere in the top 25 to advance. A broken seal allowed fluid to leak from the axle and sent him to the garage for an extended period—and put him 41st in the finishing order.

Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, and Clint Bowyer also failed to advance—as was predicted in last week’s Chasing New Hampshire column—and the field of hopefuls now stand at 12.

Meanwhile Kevin Harvick had to win to get in, and he dominated Dover International Speedway like few have in recent years. It was exactly the same kind of performance he demonstrated last fall at Phoenix International Raceway when he was in a similar situation.

For the most part the Chase contenders had modest days. It seems as though most of them knew what was needed to advance to the second round and that was all they were prepared to do. In total, seven drivers near the cutoff mark finished within two points of one another and the 12th and final transfer position came down to a tiebreaker. Dale Earnhardt Jr. edged McMurray by one position and had the best finish of the two in this round, which gave him the coveted spot among the Contender 12.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: first 
Last week’s outlook: fourth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 5.83
Kansas: 6.67
Talladega: 14.50
Chase Wins: Dover

One week can cure a lot. Harvick was in jeopardy of having his entire season nullified by bad decisions at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he ran well in both races before that. In the AAA 400 they had another defining moment when they chose not to pit after learning some lugnuts were loose. This time they survived, dominated the race, and advanced to the second round.

Joey Logano (3 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: second 
Last week’s outlook: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 10.17
Kansas: 12.00
Talladega: 26.50

Logano kept his top-10 streak alive and it now sits at eight consecutive. He really did not look very strong during most of the race, however, and that drops him one spot in this week’s ranking. Perhaps he suffered the same malaise that afflicted most of the Chasers but with back-to-back races on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks he should rebound.

Matt Kenseth (5 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: third 
Last week’s outlook: second 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 9.67
Kansas: 7.00
Talladega: 15.50
Chase Wins: New Hampshire

If not for a blown engine at Bristol Motor Speedway and crash damage at Darlington Raceway, Kenseth would rival Logano in terms of recent momentum. Those races exist, however, and the No. 20 is not immune from trouble. Logano’s only bad result came as the result of a fuel-mileage gamble. Kenseth is capable of winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway or Kansas Speedway and then again at Texas Motor Speedway, so he has a clear path to the Championship Race.

Denny Hamlin (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth 
Last week’s outlook: third 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 9.00
Kansas: 20.40
Talladega: 19.00
Chase Wins: Chicagoland

Hamlin shook fantasy owners’ confidence last week, but not enough to drop him out of the top four. Like his teammate Kenseth, he has the ability to win on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and a victory equals automatic advancement to current Chase contenders. Hamlin overcame a mistake at Chicagoland, but he was not as fortunate last week at Dover. The bottom line is that he cannot afford to continue making them if he wants to hoist the Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth 
Last week’s outlook: sixth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 12.17
Kansas: 24.20
Talladega: 19.40

It was something Busch said over his radio at the end of the AAA 400 that caused him to be moved up in this week’s rankings. He wanted to challenge Harvick for the win, but worried that since the No. 4 driver needed that victory more than he in order to advance, Harvick would wreck both cars. Busch chose to settle for a second-place finish instead and that maturity suggests he will make it further through the Chase than originally predicted.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth 
Last week’s outlook: fifth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 13.50
Kansas: 14.50
Talladega: 18.67

Keselowski did not demonstrate a lot of speed last week, but then again none of the other Chasers did either. Everyone seems to have run only as hard as needed to clear the Challenger round hurdle and so it is difficult to read much into the relative strengths and weaknesses of these drivers. Keselowski’s position in fifth this week is as much a factor of the strength of Penske Racing as it is personal speed and Kez should advance out of the Contender round with a pair of top-10s during the next two similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races.  

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh 
Last week’s outlook: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 6.83
Kansas: 11.17
Talladega: 23.17

Edwards finished only 15th last week at Dover, but it could have been worse. Something got wedged in the wheel and caused a vibration; as insignificant as that sounds, it was a broken seal that derailed Johnson’s Chase efforts. More importantly, that 15th was the 12th consecutive top-15 for the driver of the No, 19. Edwards ran well in both of the opening races for the Challenger round and given the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the regular season and start of the Chase, all of them should challenge for top-fives at Charlotte and Kansas.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth 
Last week’s outlook: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 19.20
Kansas: 14.20
Talladega: 16.17

The restrictor-plate superspeedways have become the least predictable track types on the circuit, but that trend has reversed in recent years. Earnhardt has become the Pied Piper on the plate tracks once more, so he is more likely than anyone else in the field to win at Talladega in two weeks. That will allow him to advance to the Eliminator round, but unless Hendrick Motorsports improves their results in the next few weeks, neither he nor teammate Jeff Gordon is expected to make the Championship race. 

Kurt Busch (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: ninth 
Last week’s outlook: seventh 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 16.50
Kansas: 20.17
Talladega: 23.17

The Fate of Busch is inextricably tied to that of Harvick. The majority of the resources at Stewart-Haas Racing are going to these two teams, but Busch has not quite been the same value as Harvick, Fantasy owners can think of him as 80 percent of that value and plan accordingly. Top-10s are well within reach and that will advance him at least one more round, but this team is also prone to making the wrong adjustment at the end of races and that will cost them during the Eliminator round.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week’s outlook: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 10.33
Kansas: 17.67
Talladega: 13.33

Newman was not particularly happy with his performance last week, but he was momentarily content to sit on his own lap at the end of the race. He was safely in the Chase because he could not lose any more positions than 19th and that has been a hallmark of his playoffs during the past two seasons. He will continue to do what is needed to advance and that will mean challenging for top-10s in the next three races.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th 
Last week’s outlook: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 14.00
Kansas: 7.50
Talladega: 20.50

Another bad strategy call was made at Dover and it could have cost Gordon his spot in the Chase. He chose to stay on track during the last caution along with all of the drivers ahead of him. Unfortunately the drivers behind him all pitted and Gordon lost several positions at the end of the AAA 400 since they had fresh rubber. Three more lost spots would have dropped him from the Chase. Most likely this team will make a similar mistake in the next three races and it will not be recoverable.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th 
Last week’s outlook: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Charlotte: 14.17
Kansas: 9.83
Talladega: 12.83

Truex qualified for the second round of the playoffs with a 13th-place finish, an eighth, and an 11th.That was good enough to get him through this time, but unless he finds a way to sweep the top 10 in the next three races, he is not going to advance any further. This team seemed like a lock to make the finale, but they struggled during the middle of the summer and have not been able to reestablish their footing.

 

Upcoming Tracks Average Finish, last three years, sorted by Chase so Far

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Charlotte

Kansas

Talladega

|

Martinsville

Texas

Phoenix

Matt Kenseth

4.33

10.64

9.67

7.00

15.50

|

7.67

12.50

12.50

Joey Logano

6.33

13.10

10.17

12.00

26.50

|

10.83

6.00

13.33

Denny Hamlin

7.00

14.19

9.00

20.40

19.00

|

13.60

12.20

13.33

Carl Edwards

7.33

14.31

6.83

11.17

23.17

|

15.83

14.83

11.50

Martin Truex Jr./p>

10.67

15.26

14.17

9.83

12.83

|

24.00

12.50

21.33

Jeff Gordon

11.00

12.95

14.00

7.50

20.50

|

5.67

21.33

11.50

Ryan Newman

11.00

14.10

10.33

17.67

13.33

|

21.67

12.33

12.67

Brad Keselowski

12.00

11.92

13.50

14.50

18.67

|

14.50

6.67

5.67

Kurt Busch

13.00

18.85

16.50

20.17

23.17

|

20.17

20.50

15.17

Dale Earnhardt Jr./p>

13.33

15.05

19.20

14.20

16.17

|

15.50

15.00

13.83

Kyle Busch

16.00

14.35

12.17

24.20

19.40

|

9.40

4.80

15.20

Kevin Harvick

21.33

9.59

5.83

6.67

14.50

|

16.50

12.67

3.00

 

Jamie McMurray

11.33

17.15

13.67

19.17

22.17

|

17.00

15.50

14.83

Paul Menard

19.00

17.44

21.33

10.67

17.17

|

16.67

21.00

17.50

Jimmie Johnson

19.33

12.74

14.50

11.33

14.00

|

12.67

5.83

15.50

Clint Bowyer

19.67

14.05

16.67

14.50

14.50

|

6.50

14.83

21.83

 

 

Chase Rounds, Average Finish last three years, sorted by Remaining Tracks

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Contender

Eliminator

Homestead

Kevin Harvick

31.50

9.62

9.00

7.83

6.33

Brad Keselowski

10.00

11.64

15.56

6.17

8.00

Jeff Gordon

10.50

12.00

14.00

16.42

7.33

Matt Kenseth

3.00

12.09

10.72

12.50

8.67

Joey Logano

4.50

12.31

16.22

9.67

12.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

18.50

14.42

16.50

14.42

9.00

Denny Hamlin

1.50

14.55

15.88

12.82

10.67

Carl Edwards

3.50

14.58

13.72

13.17

19.33

Kyle Busch

23.00

14.80

18.19

10.00

16.67

Ryan Newman

7.00

14.93

13.78

12.50

7.33

Martin Truex Jr.

10.50

14.96

12.28

16.92

9.00

Kurt Busch

11.00

19.07

19.94

17.83

13.67

 

Jimmie Johnson

8.50

11.64

13.28

10.67

18.00

Clint Bowyer

22.50

13.22

15.22

18.33

5.00

Paul Menard

16.00

17.20

16.39

19.25

18.00

Jamie McMurray

15.00

17.31

18.33

15.17

18.33

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 

Dan Beaver
Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.