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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Martinsville (Fall)

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

Last week’s rankings correctly predicted three of the four drivers who failed to advance. Two of them were fairly easy to pick because they were in win-to-advance scenarios and Dale Earnhardt Jr. almost scored the elusive victory to defy the prediction. That would not have been entirely unexpected and the driver who would not have made the next round in his stead was ranked on the cusp of elimination.

The biggest surprise from the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway was Denny Hamlin’s loss of position. Ranked third last week, he seemed to have enough of a cushion to get him to the next level so long as he was not involved in a "Big One" crash. Since a multi-car accident did not occur during regulation time, he should have been okay, but another problem arose. Soon before the halfway point of the race, a roof hatch loosened. It took two trips down pit road to repair the problem and effectively dropped him from contention. The irony in this situation is that loose and broken hood pins have plagued the No. 11 team all year.

The contender who was ranked outside the top eight and still advanced was Jeff Gordon and the manner in which he advanced was also a little surprising. He survived a late-race aborted attempt at a restart and later again during the fully realized restart to finish among the top five. Of course things might have been different if the field had not been frozen when Kevin Harvick turned Trevor Bayne in front of the pack, but life is filled with mysteries.

Joey Logano (6 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: first 
Last week’s outlook: first 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 10.83
Texas: 6.00
Phoenix: 13.33
Chase Wins: Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega

Logano accomplished an incredible feat in the Contender round by sweeping Victory Lane. It was not without controversy or drama, but the record books do not have asterisks behind the winners’ names and Logano is as strong today as he was when he first ascended to the top spot in our rankings. He will need to survive the ill-intentions of those he alienated during this round, but has the speed and skill to finish first on a few more occasions.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: second 
Last week’s outlook: fifth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 15.83
Texas: 14.83
Phoenix: 11.50

Edwards has already won this year, so he will not get compared to Newman once the checkers wave over Homestead-Miami Speedway. That will be an oversight, however, because his approach to the Chase has been similar. Edwards is showing consistency and peaking at the right time. It will get him close to the Cup, but unless he wins one of the next three races he will not be considered a favorite.

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: third 
Last week’s outlook: eighth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 9.40
Texas: 4.80
Phoenix: 15.20

Busch is not capable of stringing 10 perfect races together, but he is more than able of scoring three. That will get him to the Championship round with a shot at the Cup and with a little luck he can get the setup right at Homestead and beat all of his rivals. Texas Motor Speedway will be the race that defines his odds going forward.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth 
Last week’s outlook: ninth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 5.67
Texas: 21.33
Phoenix: 11.50

Gordon will qualify for the Championship race by winning this week’s Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500. He has eight victories on that track, almost won last year’s fall edition, and is overdue to score his one and only victory in his final season of full time competition. Once he wins that race, look for him to settle comfortably back in the top 10 for the final three events, so he should be placed-and-held in keeper leagues.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth 
Last week’s outlook: second 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 16.50
Texas: 12.67
Phoenix: 3.00
Chase Wins: Dover

Harvick has come within one circumstance of failing to advance to the second and third rounds of the playoffs. Poor decisions at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway put him in a must-win situation at Dover International Speedway. A sour engine would have sent him home from Talladega SuperSpeedway if he had not triggered a race-stopping crash. It is difficult to imagine that another situation will not arise in the next three weeks to keep him out of the Championship race.

Kurt Busch (2 wins / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth 
Last week’s outlook: fourth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 20.17
Texas: 20.50
Phoenix: 15.17

If things begin to unravel at Stewart-Haas Racing with Harvick failing to advance to the Championship round, it is likely that will affect Busch as well. Until recently Busch has run behind Harvick in nearly every race, which indicates that the skill level is not quite up to par or Harvick is getting slightly better equipment. In either event, these two seem to be inextricably linked.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh 
Last week’s outlook: sixth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 14.50
Texas: 6.67
Phoenix: 5.67

Keselowski has good enough three-year averages on the next three tracks to get through to the next round, but he has not shown enough strength to consistently contend for top-fives. That is what he needs to get to the Championship race, but top-10s will make him a good fantasy value in games where he is rightly priced.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 4,000 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth 
Last week’s outlook: seventh 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 24.00
Texas: 12.50
Phoenix: 21.33

When the final tally came at the end of the Contender round, Truex advanced to the next level by what seemed to be a comfortable margin of 12 points. A third in the Bank of America 500 was largely responsible for his success and it has to be considered a good omen for two weeks at Texas, but that top-five is his only such finish in the past nine races. During that span he accumulated an average finish of 14th, which will not be enough to advance him further.

 

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

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Martinsville

Texas

Phoenix

|

Homestead

Joey Logano

3.67

10.43

10.83

6.00

13.33

|

12.67

Carl Edwards

6.83

14.81

15.83

14.83

11.50

|

19.33

Jeff Gordon

9.00

12.05

5.67

21.33

11.50

|

7.33

Martin Truex Jr.

9.50

17.81

24.00

12.50

21.33

|

9.00

Brad Keselowski

9.67

8.81

14.50

6.67

5.67

|

8.00

Kurt Busch

10.00

17.90

20.17

20.50

15.17

|

13.67

Kyle Busch

14.00

10.94

9.40

4.80

15.20

|

16.67

Kevin Harvick

16.17

10.10

16.50

12.67

3.00

|

6.33

 

Denny Hamlin

10.67

12.68

13.60

12.20

13.33

|

10.67

Ryan Newman

11.83

14.38

21.67

12.33

12.67

|

7.33

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15.17

13.95

15.50

15.00

13.83

|

9.00

Matt Kenseth

15.83

10.57

7.67

12.50

12.50

|

8.67

Jamie McMurray

17.50

16.14

17.00

15.50

14.83

|

18.33

Clint Bowyer

19.67

13.05

6.50

14.83

21.83

|

5.00

Jimmie Johnson

19.67

12.29

12.67

5.83

15.50

|

18.00

Paul Menard

19.67

18.33

16.67

21.00

17.50

|

18.00

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.