Of all the things predicted about the Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination format, what happened in the second round was not something many would have predicted.
People predicted drama in the final laps. People predicted wrecks to earn positions. People predicted controversy and conspiracy theories.
It would be hard to find anyone who predicted a single-round sweep.
Joey Logano doesn’t get much for his sweep in the Contender Round beyond being one of the eight drivers to advance to the Eliminator Round. He has gotten some cool trophies, a bigger paycheck … and a few enemies.
Here’s how the remaining drivers eligible for the championship stack up as they enter this “semifinal” round even with 4,000 points apiece:
Man on hot streak
There’s nobody hotter than Joey Logano right now. He swept the Contender Round races, winning at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. His six wins this year leads the series, and his 11 wins the pgooglast two years is the most of any driver.
Can Logano keep the win streak going? Probably not. He has just four top-5s at Martinsville and two top-5s at Phoenix in his career. Plus, he has to worry about Matt Kenseth making his life miserable on the race track in retaliation for the spin-and-win move at Kansas.
Last year in this round, Logano had finishes of fifth, 12th and sixth to advance with nine points to spare. A winner at Texas in 2014, he should be able to repeat those numbers.
“The fact of it right now is no one is ahead,” Logano said. “We’re all at zero right now going into this. We’re all tied.
“The advantage we do have that no one else has is that we have confidence, we have momentum and we know the recipe to win.”
Kevin Harvick isn’t frustrated over the brouhaha he started with having contact with Trevor Bayne just after the green flag dropped on the final restart at Talladega. Harvick isn’t moaning over other drivers saying he should have been penalized, which likely would have dropped him out of the Chase.
What he has been mad about is that his team has not been as flawless as it was during the regular season. He ran out of gas at New Hampshire. He had engine and exhaust pipe issues at Talladega. His team isn’t all that buttoned up, and his average finish of 16.2 in the Chase is by far the worst of those remaining drivers.
“We’ve had a really sloppy six weeks,” Harvick said. “We’re very fortunate to be sitting here today.”
The tracks in the Eliminator Round could be the best for him — he had an average finish of 3.7 at these three tracks earlier this year, the best among all drivers.
The good thing for Harvick: he knows how to perform at Phoenix. He won last year at Phoenix to advance, his fourth consecutive win at Phoenix and his fifth in the past six races. He has won seven times at the track and has led 712 laps at the 1-mile oval.
A rare chance for Kyle
By this time of year, Kyle Busch typically has found a way to fall out of contention. The closest he has been at this point in the season was two years ago when he was tied for third in the standings, 26 points out of the lead before a problem at Martinsville caused him to lose ground to the leaders.
While he hasn’t won since that incredible July stretch where he captured three consecutive races (and four in a five-race stretch), he could easily advance. The one thing that the other drivers might have over him is they all have competed at the tracks in this round earlier this year. Busch did not as he missed the first 11 races of the season because of a broken right leg and a broken left foot.
“We know we can run good at Martinsville and Texas and Phoenix and get ourselves on through to the next round,” Busch said. “I feel pretty confident that we are one of the four that should be in Homestead.”
Jeff Gordon certainly will have fans rooting for him to win the title, and their rooting can now actually be considered legitimate since he has advanced to this round.
Gordon — the only winless driver remaining in the Chase — had an average finish of 16.03 over the regular season. He has an average finish of 9.0 in the first six races of the Chase. Can he do well enough to make it among the four vying for the championship at Homestead?
Martinsville is his best track, statistically, on the circuit with an average finish of 6.9 and eight career victories. He finished top-10 at all three of these tracks earlier this year. He also believes the mile-and-a-half tracks left on the schedule suit him better than the ones in the most recent round.
“Up to this point, we’re definitely the underdog,” Gordon said.
Going from good to great?
They all have run well enough to make it to this round. But can they really go any further?
If Keselowski can repeat what he did at these tracks earlier this year, he’ll advance. His average finish of 4.3 at the Eliminator tracks earlier this year is second only to Harvick.
If Edwards can keep the consistency he has shown in the Chase, he’ll advance. His average finish of 6.83 in the Chase this year is second only to Logano. Edwards has shown the biggest improvement of all the drivers from where he started the year — his 13.3 average at the Eliminator Round tracks earlier this season is by far the worst among those remaining (with the exception of Kyle Busch, who didn’t run in those races).
For Kurt Busch, he needs to improve on his average finish (10th) in the Chase or win. And winning certainly is not out of the question. He has found Victory Lane at all three tracks — at Phoenix in 2005, at Texas in 2009 and at Martinsville in 2014.
Truex scored top-10 finishes at all three tracks earlier this year but no top-5s with an average finish (7.3) that puts him fourth among the remaining Chase drivers. The biggest stat for Truex is how he has shaken the summer slump. He averaged a finish of 18.7 over the past 10 races of the regular season but has an average finish of 9.5 in the Chase.