Two rounds down, two rounds to go.
Sixteen drivers began, only eight remain.
After a thrilling round dominated by Joey Logano, he, along with seven of his fiercest competitors, head to Martinsville Speedway this weekend to begin the Eliminator Round.
Nobody told the Logano and the No. 22 team that the round was over, as they picked up right where they left off, winning the pole for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (Sunday, 1:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN Radio), his second pole at the track and the sixth of the season.
“It’s an amazing run we’re on right now,” Logano said to NASCAR.com. “It’s so much fun. We’re doing everything right, right now, but all that can end in a blink of an eye, so we’ve got to keep our focus. Starting first here — anywhere here at Martinsville pays a lot bigger than most race tracks. Having a great pit stall and staying up towards front, as well as keeping your fenders on the car is important. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys as I am right now.”
Martin Truex Jr. (second), Jeff Gordon (fifth), Kyle Busch (sixth), Brad Keselowski (11th), Kevin Harvick (12th), Carl Edwards (14th) and Kurt Busch (15th) make up the rest of the eligible Chasers for this round and where they will roll off come Sunday.
But don’t forget, there are more than just those eight drivers on the track Sunday. That’s what makes NASCAR’s playoff system so unique: all 43 cars are on the track racing around with everybody week after week, which could pay dividends for others.
Payback has always been prevalent in the sport. And going to a short track, moreover, the track that has been on the NASCAR schedule for the longest amount of time, payback will happen this weekend, like it or not.
Whether it will be Matt Kenseth on Logano for the Kansas/Talladega incident, or Denny Hamlin on Harvick for causing the crash at Talladega, or even non-Chasers, payback and wrecks are going to happen, and that is a product of short-track racing, NASCAR racing, high tempers and everything being on the line 24/7.
Gordon will be among the favorites this weekend, as he has eight career wins at the Paperclip. If he were to win, his first race of the season in his final career season in the Sprint Cup Series, he would be automatically advanced to the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gordon can do it, we all know that. And he has three teammates that are not Chase eligible and willing to help him out.
Some drivers to keep a close eye on will be Hamlin and Kenseth. The two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have been eliminated from championship contention, but that doesn’t mean that they can not win or impact the outcome of a race. As aforementioned, Kenseth and Hamlin are among 35 other drivers that can mess with the Chasers.
With all of that being said, I think Jimmie Johnson plays spoiler and becomes the first non-Chaser to win a race during the Chase this season. He is long overdue for a win, and he is always solid at Martinsville.
It should be a great start with a lot of tempers to a great round of the Chase.