By Matt Weaver — The second round of the Chase for the Championship took place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday but the race itself played out a lot like Martinsville on steroids. The bright yellow that adorns the playoff entries became a target of sorts for the Magic Mile, the track seemingly waving a wand of disaster over those fighting for the championship.
There was a considerable amount of carnage on Sunday, mostly involving those fighting to advance to the Round of 12 in the new-look Chase for the Championship. The end result is that the elimination race at Dover has set itself up to be everything that the regular season finale at Richmond wasn’t.
Despite expanding the playoff field to 16 teams, Richmond lacked its usual dramatic flair as 15 of the spots were virtually filled entering the weekend with the 16th a near certainty. The race was a snoozer with Brad @Keselowski dominating the proceedings and @RyanJNewman and @GregBiffle silently earning the last two playoff berths to little fanfare.
Fortunately for fans, the new Chase Grid format is set to provide what Richmond lacked three more times with elimination races at Dover, Talladega and Phoenix. For this first elimination race, Keselowski and @JoeyLogano are locked-in purely based off their victories in the first two races of the Chase for the Championship.
Kevin Harvick is a near lock as he is 41 points ahead of 13th in the standings, the cut-off point for the next round. The next four drivers, a list that includes @JimmieJohnson, @DaleJr, @KyleBusch and @JeffGordonWeb have a little margin for error but likely cannot afford a DNF on Sunday.
Meanwhile, 18 points separate the bottom half of the field where a dogfight is set to break out between Carl Edwards, @MattKenseth, @AJDinger, @KaseyKahne, Newman, @DennyHamlin, Biffle, @KurtBusch and @AricAlmirola and it looks a little like this:
Say what you will about how the status quo is a radical departure from previous championship formats but this version of the Chase certainly provides tangible drama and does so in bunches.
There have been surprises too.
After blowing an engine at Chicagoland Speedway to open his playoff run, Almirola dropped to the bottom of the standings and 20 points out of a transfer spot. Following a sixth-place at New Hampshire, he gained 10 of the 20 back and another top-10 could be enough the scratch and claw his way into the so-called Contender 12 Round.
Meanwhile, Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing was perceived as the weak link entering the playoffs but surviving to finishes of 22nd and 13th has them in a provisional transfer spot against all odds.
Conversely … Hamlin, Biffle and Kurt Busch all drive for powerhouses like Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing respectively. The fact that underdog drivers and underpowered teams have gone toe-to-toe with the Big Boys of NASCAR and are thrived to eliminate them from contention is an engaging subplot as any to come out of the topsy-turvy 2014 season.
Teams proved willing to take chances in the new regular season to earn a playoff berth and now Dover will give them the chance to take one more in order to advance to the Contender Round. It has epic written all over it.
Team Penske on Verge of Perfection
Roger Penske is starting to put the final touches on the closest thing one can have to perfection as a team owner in the volatile world of motorsports. But with a Logano victory on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it looks more achievable than ever before.
Team Penske has already won the IndyCar Series championship this season, finishing first and second in the standings with Will Power and Helio Castroneves. They’ve also scored a major coup this month in acquiring the services of Marcos Ambrose as the team embarks on their debut V8 Super Car Series journey.
Next up for Team Penske is scoring the second Sprint Cup Series championship in the organization’s history. And compared to their rivals, Penske has the best shot as both Logano and Brad Keselowski are the only two drivers locked into the second round of the Chase for the Championship.
As things currently stand, Team Penske are running first and second in the Sprint Cup standings after finishing 1-2 in IndyCar, an amazing combined display given the relative parity in both divisions.
Sometimes it’s just your year.