Published on November 10th, 2014 | by Michael J Smith0
Harvick Will Still Be Champion
The Eliminator Round is now in the books, and half of the Chase field has been eliminated from contention. Some contendors had a good days, but still found themselves on the outside when the dust settled.
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Kevin Harvick, winner of the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, all move on to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a chance to win the Sprint Cup.
Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, and Carl Edwards were all eliminated at Phoenix.
If statistics from the previous three years are any indication — and they rarely are — Kevin Harvick will still be your 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion.
Harvick’s number indicated that he would almost cruise into the final race. But, it wasn’t that easy for him.
Harvick’s average at the three Eliminator round tracks was 14th at Martinsville Speedway, 10th at Texas Motor Speedway, and fourth at Phoenix International Raceway.
But, at M’ville, he received heavy damage when Matt Kenseth entered the corner too hot and spun into Harvick. He finished 33rd. He rebounded with a second-place at Texas. But he needed to win at Phoenix to ensure his spot in the Chase, and that’s exactly what he did.
Based on the numbers, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano should have been eliminated from contention in the Eliminator Round. And early on at Phoenix, it looked like that would be the case.
On Hamlin’s first stop, the rear tire changer accidentally knocked the valve stem off the tire, causing a flat. Hamlin had to come down put road a second time to get the tires changed. He fell a lap down twice, but used the free-pass twice and finished fifth.
Logano was penalized when he dragged his gas can from his pit stall during an early pitstop. He too lost a lap, but managed to get the free-pass and rebounded to finish sixth.
Both controlled their own destiny, though. They needed to finish 11th or better and both did that.
Statistics also indicated that Jeff Gordon would be eliminated in this round. Gordon had an average finish of second at Martinsville. He upheld that average by finishing second.
He had an average finish of 19th at Texas, but that was mainly because of a 38th-place finish at Texas in 2013. He ended up finishing 29th after contact with Keselowski that ended in a brawl on pit road and penalties.
His average at Phoenix was 25th-place, but he bucked the numbers, finishing second. If not for the run in with Keselowski, he probably would have moved on.
Per the numbers, it was a toss-up between Kenseth and Edwards as to which one would be eliminated.
Edwards had an average finish of 14th-place at the three tracks (13th at M’ville, 18th at Texas, and 11th at Phoenix), and he finished just slightly worse than his average: 20th at M’ville, ninth at Texas, and 15th at Phoenix for an average of 15th-place. For Edwards, he didn’t run well enough to stay in, compared to what his competition did.
Like Edwards, Kenseth had an average of 14th-place at the three tracks (14th at M’ville, third at Texas, and 23rd at Phoenix). Kenseth outperformed his numbers by posting an average finish of 11th. His average would have been higher if not for a 25th-place showing at Texas, as he finished sixth at M’ville and third at Phoenix. He most likely would have been in.
But, he went into Phoenix with no control over his own destiny and that ended up costing him. Hamlin and Logano both did what they had to — finish better than 11th — which knocked Kenseth out, despite his third-place effort. At least now he doesn’t have to worry about Kevin Harvick.
Keselowski was supposed to be eliminated this round, and he was. But, it was very close.
Keselowski’s numbers show an average finish of 10th (ninth at M’ville, 10th at Texas, and 11th at Phoenix). Keselowski bested those numbers at Texas and Phoenix, finishing third and fourth, respectively. But a 31st-place finish at M’ville proved too much to overcome.
Late in the race at M’ville, Keselowski had a rear differential problem that required repairs in the garage. His 31st-place finish was the difference, as he finished eight points out of making the finale. At least he doesn’t have to worry about Jeff Gordon.
Ironically, Newman, who hasn’t won a race all year, wasn’t supposed to be eliminated in this round, according to the numbers, and he wasn’t.
At the three tracks in the Eliminator round, he has an average finish of 12th (19th at Martinsville, 11th at Texas, and sixth at Phoenix). He topped that with an average finish of ninth (third at Martinsville, 15th at Texas, and 11th at Phoenix).
But, it wasn’t so easy — or without controversy — for Newman. He was on the outside looking in with two laps to go. He needed to pass one more car, Kyle Larson, to stay in the Chase. On the last lap, he drove into the corner as hard as he could, making contact with Larson that would send Larson into the wall.
The banzai move put Newman in and knocked Gordon out by 1 point.
After making the necessary adjustments, Harvick will take home the Sprint Cup, narrowly beating Hamlin.
While Harvick has never won at Homestead, but he has an average finish of eighth at the track over the last three years.
Hamlin does have two wins at Homestead (and he’s the only one of the four contendors who has won there), but only one of those came in the last three years (2013). His average finish there is 10th.
Newman is no slouch at the 1.5-mile oval. He has an average finish of 10th in Miami, so if he can run that well, he can win the championship, should Harvick and Hamlin falter.
Logano, who has been running well all season, has an average finish of 14th at the track. While his average is not as good as the others, he’s been running well this season and could find himself with the Cup at the end of the day.
We still believe that Harvick will be your champion. But, it’s been far from chalk to get there.