NASCAR’s Chase: A single race, especially at Talladega, can make all the difference

Brad Keselowski finished 38th at last week’s race at Kansas Speedway and dropped to 11th in NASCAR’s Chase standings.
Brad Keselowski finished 38th at last week’s race at Kansas Speedway and dropped to 11th in NASCAR’s Chase standings. AP

A single race can make all the difference in NASCAR’s Chase.

Ask Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick, the two winners in the second round who are already ensured spots in the round of eight.

But nothing is certain for the 10 other drivers who haven’t clinched a spot in the next round, which begins after this week’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last week’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway proved this much – points can swing upward or downward, and in dramatic fashion.

Including race-winner Harvick, six drivers saw their positions change by at least two points, completing a radical reshuffling of the standings. Here’s a look at the biggest shifts:

Moving up

▪  Joey Logano was in a deep hole coming out of the Charlotte, the first race of the second round, where he finished 36th. But he moved out of 11th and into a tie for eighth with Austin Dillon after finishing third at Kansas. Logano owns the tiebreaker for now over Dillon, because his third-place finish at Kansas is the highest of the two drivers in this round.

▪  Carl Edwards might not have won at Kansas – he finished second behind Harvick – but he moved up two spots to fourth in the standings. He’ll need something really unfortunate to happen at Talladega for him not to advance.

Moving down

▪ Brad Keselowski saw the most significant change, falling from fourth to 11th after a 38th-place finish. As he heads to Talladega, however, he knows he has a strong history at restrictor-plates going for him. He won Talladega’s spring race and at Daytona in July, two of his five career restrictor-plate victories. But it’s a tough position for Keselowski, whose average finish in Chase races had been 5.0 before Kansas.

▪ Denny Hamlin started the Kansas race in the eighth spot and left in 10th thanks to a 15th-place finish. He had a splitter problem early in the race, then another problem on pit road. After the race, he bemoaned his lack of luck this season – especially in the Chase. He was running second at Charlotte in the first race of the second round before he blew an engine.

▪ Chase Elliott was in 10th place and in trouble in the Chase before Kansas. After finishing 31st, he dropped to 12th.