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Brad Keselowski
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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Kansas

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 17, 2019, 3:46 pm ET

Kansas Speedway is much more predictable than Talladega Superspeedway, but that is not much comfort to the drivers on the bubble. They remember what happened at Dover International Speedway two weeks ago when several contenders had trouble. 'Big One' accidents don’t tend to happen on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but when four drivers far enough below the cutline to have a sense of desperation, mistakes in traffic can be made.

Battling for a playoff berth in 2017, Kyle Larson blew an engine and was eliminated. Elliott had an engine problem at Dover this year, Joey Logano broke an axle, Ryan Blaney had brake issues and those are only some of the things that can go wrong.

Fifty-five points can be made up in a race. Denny Hamlin currently has a 56-point advantage over the cutline, but every driver knows the bubble can move; after all Blaney moved it just last week. If one of the four drivers at the bottom of the standings wins, Hamlin’s advantage to Logano is 38. That still sounds safe, but not if the No. 11 has trouble early in the race.

Martin Truex Jr. has a 30-point advantage over Logano, Kyle Busch is 23 points to the good and Kevin Harvick has an 18-point cushion. The only two drivers who are safe this week are Larson and Blaney with their Round 2 victories. Everyone else needs to walk the razor’s edge until the Hollywood Casino 400 is in the books.


Projected to make the Championship

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 5 stage wins / 3,094 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 4

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 6.33
Martinsville: 11.00
Texas: 3.67

Harvick is doing what he needs in order to remain in the playoffs. Excluding Talladega, which is subject to the whim of Fate, he has a perfect record of top-10s during the playoffs. His last victory came in the regular season ending Brickyard 400. As the clock runs down, he needs to prove to himself and the team that they can find Victory Lane again before the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Denny Hamlin (4 wins / 4 stage wins / 3,114 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 1

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.00
Martinsville: 9.83
Texas: 17.00

Now that he has survived Talladega, Hamlin has some of his best tracks ahead. An undisputed master of the flat tracks, he has a great opportunity to win at Martinsville Speedway and Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway in Round 3. He won at Texas Motor Speedway this spring, so he is liable to be one of three drivers who advance to the finale with a victory.

Martin Truex Jr. (6 wins / 6 stage wins / 3,106 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 2

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 6.50
Martinsville: 6.67
Texas: 11.83

If Truex struggles at Kansas and someone other than the Big 3 wins at Martinsville, Truex could be in jeopardy of losing his favored status to make it Homestead still chasing the Cup. Truex, Kyle Busch, and Harvick have a lot of bonus points, but that is not the only way to get to the finale. Truex’s saving grace is the pair of wins in Round 1 and his second-place finish at Dover International Speedway.

Kyle Larson (1 win / 5 stage wins / 3,069 points)
Power Ranking: 10
Points’ Standings: 7

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 15.00
Martinsville: 23.17
Texas: 22.33

We will probably waver on Larson right up until the week before the finale. His best opportunity to win in Round 3 is going to come in Phoenix and he is going to have to battle Hamlin and Harvick for that victory. He has one more week to contemplate how he will run the next three races, however, and that still gives him some breathing room.

Projected to Advance to Round 3

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 11 stage wins / 3,099 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 3

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 10.33
Martinsville: 2.83
Texas: 11.17

Busch has more bonus points than anyone in the field. With 46, he holds an advantage of 23 over Logano – the driver who is most likely to take the last spot in Round 3. That can dissolve in a single race if something happens to the No. 18. Truex’s two wins to start the season showed power among the Big 3, but Chase Elliott’s win on the Roval, Larson’s win at Dover, and Blaney’s victory last week suggests that the field has caught up. Since winning at Pocono Raceway this summer, Busch has only six top-fives in the last 17 races with an average finish of 12.1 and no wins.

Joey Logano (2 wins / 9 stage wins / 3,076 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 6

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 14.50
Martinsville: 10.50
Texas: 6.33

Logano is on the bubble with enough of an advantage over the cutline this week that he can play it safe – unless it appears one of the bottom four has a chance to win. In that case, he needs to beat his teammate Brad Keselowski by two points. Logano would prefer to advance based on a victory and he won at Kansas in 2014 and 2015, but don’t expect the No. 22 to take a lot of chances.

Brad Keselowski (3 wins / 4 stage wins / 3,052 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 12.33
Martinsville: 3.83
Texas: 17.67

The exact same scenario described for Logano applies to Keselowski. He needs to balance caution and strength. What neither driver can afford is to press the envelope on their engine so far that they experience a failure. Look for these Team Penske mates to run within three or four positions of one another all day on Sunday and finish in the top 10.

Ryan Blaney (1 win / 2 stage wins / 3,056 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 9

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 16.17
Martinsville: 13.17
Texas: 12.33

Blaney was lucky and good last week. He did not have a dent on his car until the final straightaway, at which point he knew there was no reason to hold back. As he and Ryan Newman banged doors on the way to the checkers, he won by inches and locked into Round 3. That was his first win of the season, but it’s going to take another to get to Homestead with a shot at the championship.

Projected to Fail to Advance to Round 3

Chase Elliott (3 wins / 5 stage wins / 3,054 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 10

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.50
Martinsville: 10.00
Texas: 8.50

Last week was pretty much a worst case scenario for Elliott. He was heavily involved in one of the three 'Big One' accidents and while the team made sufficient repairs for him to challenge for a top-five, he was not able to battle for the top spot. Meanwhile Blaney moved the cutline line sufficiently that it will probably require Elliott to score his fourth win of the season if he wants to advance. He won at Kansas last fall, but it took a mistake by Harvick to allow him to do so.

William Byron (0 wins / 2 stage wins / 3,049 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 12

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 30.33
Martinsville: 27.00
Texas: 10.67

At some point it will occur to Byron that his season has been a huge success just in how far he’s made it through the playoffs. He cannot afford to think that now, however, and all he should be focused on is winning his career-first race at Kansas. If he can do so and advance one more round, it will be the thing legends are made of.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 1 stage win / 3,052 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 11

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 14.50
Martinsville: 11.17
Texas: 18.17

We didn’t have a clock on him, but however many minutes Bowyer sat high-sided on the apron transition had to be the longest in his life. After winning Stage 2, he finally earned a playoff bonus point, but it will only help him if he can advance beyond Kansas. Bowyer’s hometown track has not been very welcoming in recent years with only one top-five since 2014.

Alex Bowman (1 win / 0 stage wins / 3,058 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 8

Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.00
Martinsville: 12.67
Texas: 18.25

Bowman will remind himself over and again that he won at Chicagoland Speedway. That victory on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track is the hope he carries with him into the Hollywood Casino 400. It’s not his only path. If he outruns teammate Elliott and either Logano or Keselowski have significant problems, he could continue in the hunt. If both of the Penske pals struggle, Bowman could advance with a solid run. But one never wants to put their fate in another driver’s hands.

 

Power
Rankings

Points
Standings

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Kansas

Martinsville

Texas

Projected to Make the Finals

1

4

Kevin Harvick

3

5

7.00

|

6.33

11.00

3.67

4

1

Denny Hamlin

4

4

8.78

|

13.00

9.83

17.00

6

2

Martin Truex Jr.

6

6

8.98

|

6.50

6.67

11.83

10

7

Kyle Larson

1

5

11.05

|

15.00

23.17

22.33

Projected to Advance to Round 3

2

3

Kyle Busch

4

11

7.17

|

10.33

2.83

11.17

3

6

Joey Logano

2

9

7.94

|

14.50

10.50

6.33

5

5

Brad Keselowski

3

4

8.96

|

12.33

3.83

17.67

8

9

Ryan Blaney

1

2

9.77

|

16.17

13.17

12.33

Projected to Fail to Advance to Round 3

7

10

Chase Elliott

3

5

9.72

|

13.50

10.00

8.50

11

12

William Byron

0

2

11.46

|

30.33

27.00

10.67

13

11

Clint Bowyer

0

1

11.58

|

14.50

11.17

18.17

14

8

Alex Bowman

1

0

12.24

|

9.00

12.67

18.25

No Longer in Playoff Contention

9

15

Kurt Busch

1

3

10.43

|

11.17

18.33

10.33

12

13

Aric Almirola

0

1

11.53

|

19.67

14.17

17.00

17

16

Erik Jones

1

0

13.99

|

14.20

22.20

8.80

18

14

Ryan Newman

0

0

15.84

|

25.50

14.67

18.67

 

 

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.