Fuel & Tires: Kenseth, Earnhardt on the ropes in NASCAR Chase
Just over two weeks ago, Kevin Harvick did what he had to do and won at Dover to avoid elimination in the first round of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now, it appears Matt Kenseth will have to take the same do-or-die scenario to Talladega Superspeedway, a track that will be much harder to win at.
The Cambridge native led a race-high 153 laps at Kansas before getting spun out by eventual winner Joey Logano with five laps to go. Kenseth ended up finishing 14th, is now 12th in points and in danger of being eliminated following Sunday’s race. Because of the high attrition rate and number of crashes at the 2½-mile track, Kenseth doesn’t necessarily have to win, but that’s the only way he’ll be guaranteed to advance.
Also in danger of being eliminated are Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Luckily for Earnhardt, he’s won at Talladega six times, most recently in the spring race. Kenseth and Busch each have one win at Talladega while Newman has never won there.
While Logano chalks up the contact between Kenseth and himself as “good, hard racing,” Logano already had his ticket punched to the next Chase round after winning last weekend at Charlotte. However, racers race to win and Logano wasn’t going to sit back when he knew he could get by Kenseth. I just don’t appreciate drivers having to wreck other drivers to win a race. Truth be told, I’ve never particularly liked Logano and now I care even less for him.
It will come down to what will likely be a wild afternoon at one of the most unpredictable races of the season. Can Kenseth regain his momentum and make it to the eight-driver Eliminator round? I’m not entirely sure he will, but you can guarantee that he will fight like mad to try. Hopefully, Logano ends up in front of Kenseth and some point in the race and Kenseth gets some payback.
If Kenseth fails to make it to the next round, it will be another black mark on NASCAR’s contrived Chase format. How can a driver with a series-high five wins on the season (tied with Logano, ironically enough) be eliminated from title contention with four races to go? It’s rather absurd, but on the other hand, the drivers all have to play by the same rules.
What I find the most puzzling is that the Verizon IndyCar Series doesn’t have this sort of playoff format, but its championship has been decided in the final race of the season for at least the last 12 years.