The first race in the second round of the Chase took place Sunday at Charlotte, and while some of the 12 Chase teams escaped with good finishes, others have a lot of work to do in the next two races if they want to reach the round of eight. While it’s not uncommon to hear that Talladega, the elimination race in this round, is the wild-card event because of it being a restrictor plate track, Sunday’s race may have turned into a wild-card (both good and bad) for many teams.
Don’t look now but Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team seem to have found their game at just the right time. The six-time champion may have had the fastest car at Dover a week earlier, and the team’s ability to go fast continued at Charlotte. Johnson even overcame an early pit road speeding penalty to win for the eighth time at Charlotte as he led 155 laps. It’s the first time Johnson will advance to the round of eight in this version of the Chase format and with his history of running so well in the three tracks in the third round, he’s almost a given to be one of the four to race for the title in Homestead.
So if you didn’t watch the Sunday’s race and later saw that Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott were involved in a crash that put a dent (or in this case several dents) in their Chase hopes, it might be easy to think one or both of the young guys lost their patience and were involved in an accident. But the incident on a restart was neither of their faults. Martin Truex, Jr. admitted to making a mistake and causing the wreck. But the end result is that Dillon and Elliott are now ninth and 10th in points. But the good news for them was that fellow Chaser Denny Hamlin lost an engine late in the race, so while Hamlin sits in the eighth and final spot to advance to the next round, Dillon and Elliott are just three points back. So they might not be in must-win situations at either Kansas or Talladega.
If Kyle Busch goes on to win a second straight title, the team may look back at Charlotte as being one of the reasons why. Busch was also involved in accident where he had some minor damage. But the team was able to tape the body up enough to make it work good enough for Busch to bring home a sixth place finish. While that finish won’t get you doused with champagne in victory lane, it is that kind of result in the face of adversity that championship teams make.
Kevin Harvick’s average finish in the four Chase races so far is an uninspiring 24th. So, it would be logical to think his championship hopes are pretty much done. But that No. 1 finish in New Hampshire means Harvick is still alive. He’s been 37th and 38th in the past two races, but the win to advance rule make play to Harvick’s favor again. He is certainly capable of winning any time at any track, so it would be no surprise to see him contend at Kansas and of course Talladega. Right now, Harvick sits eight points behind Hamlin for that eighth and final spot. So, he doesn’t necessarily have to win one of the next two races to be one of the final eight, but he’ll probably be in that win or go home mode for the next two weeks.
After giving us plenty of excitement at about this time last year, it seems Matt Kenseth has returned to his mostly unassuming self in 2016. So, with that, Kenseth quietly and efficiently advanced into the round of 12 and then went on to take second Sunday in Charlotte. That finish gives him a 31-point lead over the ninth-place Dillon. Another top five at Kansas will give Kenseth plenty of breathing room without having to worry about a win at Talladega.
It’s one thing when the weather plays havoc with the schedule like it did at Dover the previous week. It’s quite another though when a major storm like Hurricane Matthew comes along. While many of us not in the direct path of Matthew were inconvenienced by the Sprint Cup race being moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, millions of others along the eastern coasts of Florida, Georgia and South and North Carolina (and not to mention Haiti) are dealing with some really hard and overwhelming situations now. So if you are OK, be thankful, and if you are in a position to help, look up one of the several organizations providing help to those in need.
I actually got one right by picking Johnson to win at Charlotte, so off to Kansas we go now. It’s been a little bit of a disappointing season for Joey Logano, but I say Logano, who has won two of the last five races at Kansas (whether Kenseth likes it or not) will be the winner this week. The deep sleeper underdog who you might or might not think about pick is Ryan Newman, who has three top 10 finishes in the last five races at Kansas.