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Kyle Busch
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Chasing the Cup

Chasing ISM Raceway

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: November 7, 2019, 7:09 pm ET

Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are looking ahead to Homestead. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano will be looking in their rearview mirror to see who might be able to erase a points’ deficit and overtake them. Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson will be staring intently through the front windshield, while Chase Elliott may just be looking heavenward for a little help.

It’s the last regular race of the Round of 8. After the ISM Raceway 500k at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway, the field will be cut to four championship contenders while half the current contenders have to deal with their sudden irrelevance. The good news is that this weekend’s contest will be run on a driver’s track where the ability to communicate the needs for a setup will make the difference between winning and losing.

It’s in the entire team’s hands.


NASCAR’s minimally-banked courses measuring 1-mile or less in length are rhythm courses. As with Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway precise lines through the corner are required to be competitive. So is the timing of acceleration and braking. It’s hard to make 334 perfect laps, but that may be precisely what is required to win this week and advance to the next round.

Phoenix has been part of the playoffs since the inception. In the previous 15 runnings of this race a driver who was not in playoff contention has won four times. That is the most of any track in the history of this format.

Projected to make the Championship
 

Kevin Harvick (6 wins / 6 stage wins / 4,113 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 2

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 5.00
Homestead: 3.33

Round 3 of the playoffs were tailor-made for Harvick, including tracks he counts among his favorites. For several years, the other drivers practically conceded the win at ISM and his current streak of 12 consecutive top-10s is nothing short of amazing. Since the beginning of 2012 he has amassed an average finish on 3.53 in 15 races with seven victories and another pair of second-place finishes. He doesn’t need the win this week, but he wants it and it’s going to be difficult for anyone to stand in his way.
 

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 11 stage wins / 4,113 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 3

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 2.67
Homestead: 4.00

Busch is second only to Harvick at Phoenix. With teammate Denny Hamlin’s trouble last week at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch currently has an margin on the cutline of 22 points. He is unlikely to lose that advantage not only because of his current eight-race, top-10 streak on this track but also because he has not failed to score stage points in a single race since NASCAR implemented this rule. He won Stage 2 this spring for his third victory in that regard and leads the field with 71 points.

Joey Logano (2 wins / 10 stage wins / 4,111 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 4

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 18.33
Homestead: 3.67

Unless Logano picks up the pace it is not going to make a bit of difference if he qualifies for the Championship Round: he won’t be competitive. Logano’s fourth-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway was his first top-five in the playoffs. His average of 13.0 is the second-worst of the likely top four (Busch sits at 13.4) and if he cannot challenge for a top-five this week, he has a difficult weekend ahead of him in Miami. He surprised the field last year; he’s going to have to do that again.

Martin Truex Jr. (7 wins / 8 stage wins / 4,133 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 1

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.50
Homestead: 13.00

We expected Truex would use Texas as an extended test session and that would appear to be the case. He was unimpressive for most of the 500 miles, but the team didn’t get too far away from their setup to keep them from charging at the end. Truex made his way back up to sixth at the checkers. In the eight playoff races so far this season, the only time he has finished worse than seventh was on the wild card track of Talladega.

Projected to Fail to Advance to Championship Round

Denny Hamlin (5 wins / 5 stage wins / 4,091 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.33
Homestead: 10.00

Two weeks ago the media was ready to hand the Cup over to Hamlin; this week he is in the unenviable position of having to come from behind on a track where he has only the eighth-best average finish of 12.33 in the last six races. The good news is that Logano has been worse at Phoenix recently with the 17th-ranked, six-race average of 18.33, but one never wants to put one’s fate in another driver’s hands.

Ryan Blaney (1 win / 2 stage wins / 4,057 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 6

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 16.83
Homestead: 24.00

Only one driver can win the ISM Raceway 500k and it is highly unlikely that will be Blaney. In seven career starts he has only one top-five and another pair of top-10s. His career average finish of 15.85 includes a 34th in last fall’s ISM Raceway 500k with a broken radiator. Blaney is coming off back-to-back top-10s. That is the good news, but he has not had three straight since Watkins Glen International this summer. Blaney won Stage 1 at Phoenix this spring and if he can sweep the segments this weekend, he has a shot at advancing on points if either Busch or Logano struggle.

Chase Elliott (3 wins / 5 stage wins / 4,033 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 8

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 10.50
Homestead: 7.67

Quite simply it will take a miracle for Elliott to advance to the Championship 4. This is NASCAR, however, and miracles do happen on occasion. Elliott was in the same position in 2017. After getting wrecked at Martinsville by Hamlin, he came into this race needing to win and finished second to Matt Kenseth—who had recently been knocked out of contention by Logano at Kansas Speedway. With two more seasons under his belt, he will be more aggressive this week if he can get into position to challenge.

Kyle Larson (1 win / 5 stage wins / 4,088 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 7

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.00
Homestead: 6.00

It would seem the question of what Larson could accomplish at Homestead-Miami Speedway if he could ever get there in playoff contention may never be answered. This is the last time the championship is going to be contested on that 1.5-mile true oval and Larson will probably not garner enough points to make his stand. He has been strong on occasion at Phoenix with results of sixth or better in four of the last six races there. His last six races of this season have netted only two top-10s, however.

 

Power
Rankings

Points
Standings

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Phoenix

Homestead

Projected to Make the Finals

1

2

Kevin Harvick

4

6

6.94

|

5.00

3.33

2

3

Kyle Busch

4

11

7.15

|

2.67

4.00

3

4

Joey Logano

2

10

7.83

|

18.33

3.67

4

1

Martin Truex Jr.

7

8

8.55

|

12.50

13.00

Projected to Fail to Advance to Finals

5

5

Denny Hamlin

5

5

8.72

|

12.33

10.00

6

6

Ryan Blaney

1

2

9.49

|

16.83

24.00

9

8

Chase Elliott

3

5

10.40

|

10.50

7.67

10

7

Kyle Larson

1

5

10.79

|

12.00

6.00

No Longer in Playoff Contention

7

9

Brad Keselowski

3

4

9.56

|

11.83

15.67

8

14

Kurt Busch

1

3

10.38

|

16.67

15.00

11

10

William Byron

0

2

11.06

|

15.00

24.00

12

13

Aric Almirola

0

2

11.5

|

10.50

22.33

13

11

Clint Bowyer

0

1

11.61

|

17.00

14.33

14

12

Alex Bowman

1

0

12.42

|

21.00

22.50

15

16

Erik Jones

1

0

13.49

|

13.40

24.00

18

15

Ryan Newman

0

0

16.30

|

11.17

16.67

 

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 race total occasionally varies. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season (all 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 15 years with a little help from his >600,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.