Published on October 21st, 2014 | by Michael J Smith0
And Then There Were Eight
The Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has come to a close. A field of 12 drivers competing for the Cup is now down to eight. And, some big names were eliminated from contention at Talladega Superspeedway.
Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, and Brad Keselowski all advance to the Eliminator round.
The championship hopes of Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Earnhardt Jr have come to an end.
If statistics from the previous three years are any indication — and they rarely are — Kevin Harvick will be the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion.
Based on the numbers, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Ryan Newman should have been eliminated in the Contender Round. In reality, Earnhardt Jr was the only one we predicted to fall out of the Chase at this round who actually did. And, it wasn’t necessarily the result of his driving.
Logano raced his way in with a victory at Kansas Speedway. Hamlin and Newman managed to avoid the trouble that three of the four eliminated drivers experienced.
At Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt Jr had an average finish of 11th over the last three years. (He missed the 2012 race due to a concussion.) This time, he finished 39th after cutting a tire while leading.
At Charlotte Motor Speedway, he had an average finish of 17th. (He also missed the 2012 Charlotte race due to the same concussion.) This year, he finished 20th, after breaking a shifter while running near the front.
At Talladega, he had an average finish of 16th. But, after leading early, he got shuffled back and then contact with Greg Biffle’s car sent Earnhardt spinning. He suffered heavy damage and finished 31st, thus ending his title run.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne didn’t fare much better. Johnson was caught up in a wreck at Kansas and finished 40th, compared to his average finish of 5th in the last three years.
At Charlotte, Johnson got shuffled back on the final restart and finished 17th. He had an average finish of 14th heading into this race — but that number is significantly lowered by a 34th-place finish there in 2011. The last two years, he’s finished 3rd and 4th.
Johnson seemed strong at Talladega, leading 84 laps. But, he was shuffled back on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered. On the second attempt, he was shuffled back even further to 24th, where he finished.
Kahne had an average finish of seventh at Kansas coming into this year’s race. He finished 22nd at Kansas after hitting the wall.
At Charlotte, he finished 10th, which was slightly better than his average of 14th. And, at Talladega, he finished 12th, which was better than his 18th-place average finish there.
Had Keselowski not won at ‘Dega, Kahne would probably be in the Chase. But, with a win guaranteeing a spot in the next round, Keselowski bumped Kahne from the Chase.
Kyle Busch started off well in the Contender Round. He finished third at Kansas, which was much better than his 25th-place average finish there in the last three years. He finished 5th at Charlotte, which was lower than his fourth-place average finish there, but still a strong finish that kept him in good shape heading into Talladega.
At Talladega, however, he would get collected in a wreck that caused extensive damage to his Toyota, and relegated him to a 40th-place finish, which knocked him out of the Chase.
After making the necessary adjustments, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Joey Logano will be eliminated in this round based on the numbers. But, Edwards and Kenseth have both earned on average 91 points over the next three races, so Edwards could make it and Kenseth could be eliminated.
The way Logano has been running lately (and Team Penske overall), it is hard to believe that Logano will be eliminated in this round, but the numbers indicate that he will.
That would leave Harvick, Keselowski, Newman and Kenseth/Edwards to duke it out at Homestead-Miami Speedway.