The screws begin to tighten Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That’s when NASCAR’s Chase will move into its second round, in the Bank of America 500 at the 1.5-mile track in Concord. It’s down to 12 drivers now, after four were eliminated Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr. won two races in the first round of the Chase, with Kevin Harvick claiming the other victory.
They go back to even with the other 10 remaining Chase drivers now, though.
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Here’s a look at how the second round might play out over the next three races at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. The top eight will advance to the third round.
Best bets: Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski
This group includes the season’s four most consistent drivers. Three of them are former champs and the other – Truex – advanced to the final four last season at Homestead. Truex and Harvick have proved themselves by winning in the postseason. Keselowski had top-five finishes in all three first-round races. Busch, after finishing eighth at Chicagoland, was third at New Hampshire and second at Dover.
Should advance: Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott
Hamlin has been a half-step behind the top four most of the season, but he’s also a threat to win at any time. He hasn’t been much of a factor in the Chase, despite heading into the postseason on a high after winning at Richmond.
Logano came alive in 2015 when he won at Charlotte, the first of a three-race sweep of the second round. Kenseth, who would become Logano’s foil later in last season’s Chase, had top-10 finishes in all three first-round races.
Then there’s Elliott, a rookie who was third at Chicagoland and Dover. He’s been remarkably consistent for a first-year driver, although he’s still looking for that first victory.
On shaky ground: Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon
Johnson, a six-time champion, hasn’t shown he can produce in this version of the Chase. Despite leading 118 laps at Chicagoland and 90 at Dover, he has continued to come up empty. Edwards hasn’t returned to the form that earned him back-to-back victories in the season at Bristol and Richmond.
Busch, although he has had a stellar season, doesn’t have top-eight speed at this late date.
Dillon’s happy-to-be-here vibe won’t be enough during this round – he probably wouldn’t have advanced if either Jamie McMurray or Kyle Larson hadn’t experienced bad luck Sunday at Dover.