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The Eliminator Round

Almost There: Welcome to The Eliminator Round

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this storyline-rich round, a quick primer of the Eliminator Round – the final hurdle before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Only eight drivers remain in championship contention as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup kicks off its Eliminator Round with the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Points for the remaining drivers in the Chase – Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin – have been reset to 4,000. Following Martinsville, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will visit Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 2, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN) and conclude the Eliminator Round at Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 9, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN). Like the previous two Chase segments, a win by a championship-eligible driver guarantees advancement to Homestead. The four winless championship-qualifying drivers lowest in points will be “eliminated” after Phoenix. The advancing four drivers left in NASCAR’s Playoffs will move on to the one-race Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

No driver without Chase eligibility has won a race so far in NASCAR’s playoffs. Four drivers – Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne were knocked out of the Chase following Talladega. Six-time series champion Johnson led the most laps (84) at the Alabama track, but he was unable to close the race and defend his 2013 title. Of the final eight drivers, Jeff Gordon (four: 2001, 1998, 1997, 1995), Brad Keselowski (one: 2012) and Matt Kenseth (one: 2003) have previously won series championships.

 

Team Penske Tandem In Title Contention With Four Races Left

Here is a trivia question that is likely to stump fellow NASCAR fans around the water cooler:

Q: Which of the remaining eight Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders has not won a race at the final four tracks?

A: Brad Keselowski

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion driver claims 14 wins in the last four seasons, second only to Jimmie Johnson’s 16. He leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories this season, but has never visited victory lane at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix or Homestead. Contributing to Keselowski’s win total is his 37 starts at the four tracks are the fewest of any remaining Chase driver. He will look to change his luck in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Keselowski has been strong at the paper clip in his career with five top-10 results in nine starts, including a fourth-place showing in the 2013 Martinsville fall race. He finished 38th at the Virginia track in March, but placed no worse than ninth in his previous four starts there.

Looking further ahead, Keselowski owns just four top fives and eight top 10s in 28 career starts with a 17.3 average finish at the last three Chase tracks.

When Keselowski won the 2012 NSCS Championship, he came up clutch with sixth-place finishes at Martinsville and Phoenix, and a runner-up finish at Texas, before taking home the title with a 15th-place showing at Homestead.

Arguably the most impressive driver in the Chase so far has been Keselowski’s Team Penske shop mate Joey Logano, who ranks second in the series with five wins this season, including two so far during NASCAR’s playoffs. He became the first driver ever to log top-five finishes in the first five Chase races. The 24-year-old has one victory (Texas, 4/7/14), eight top fives and 13 top 10s in 39 careers starts at the final four tracks. Sunday, he will attempt to improve on his fourth-place Martinsville finish in March.

 

Hamlin In Position For Championship Run

Persevering his way through the regular season and the first two rounds of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin finds himself in the perfect situation for a championship run.

The trio of Eliminator Round tracks – Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix are three of his best courses. All he has to do is win a race at one of those venues and he automatically advances to the Championship at Homestead where he boasts two victories and is the defending winner. If not, he can still move on to Homestead by accumulating more points in the Eliminator Round than four winless Chase-contending drivers.

Hamlin gets his first crack at winning in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). The No. 11 FedEx Toyota driver owns four victories at “The Paper Clip” – tied with Pocono for his most at any track. Additionally, he boasts nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes at the track located 130 miles from his hometown of Chesterfield, Virginia.

Although he has the third-fewest starts (52) of the remaining eight drivers at the Eliminator Round tracks, Hamlin’s seven wins rank second to only Jeff Gordon’s 11, accumulated over 101 starts. The 34-year-old also claims the highest average finish (10.3) and second-best driver rating (100.1). He owns two wins at Texas and one at Phoenix.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” said Hamlin of his opportunity to advance with a win at Martinsville. “As average as our team has been this year, we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter, it’s about driver and mechanical setup. I feel like that’s our strong suit with our team.”

 

Still Alive In His Drive For Five, Gordon Goes For Ninth Win At Martinsville

After surviving the unpredictability of Talladega to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon travels to a welcoming site this weekend in his quest for his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship – Martinsville Speedway.

Gordon will go for his ninth win at the .526-mile oval in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). Currently, the No. 24 Chevrolet driver ranks tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for its wins lead among active drivers.

An added bonus?

By visiting Victory Lane on Sunday, Gordon would automatically advance to the Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami.

Standing in his way at Martinsville is a contingent of Chase contenders who have also previously won there – Denny Hamlin (four victories), Ryan Newman (one) and Kevin Harvick (one).

Gordon captured the checkered flag in last fall’s race at Martinsville and boasts a gaudy 27 top fives (62.8%) and 34 tops 10s (79.1%) in 43 starts at “The Paper Clip.”

If he is able to clinch the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Gordon’s 13-year period between titles will defeat Terry Labonte’s record 12-year dry spell. His 92 career NSCS wins rank third on the all-time list.

 

Consistency Key For Kenseth, Newman

No win, no problem.

Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman have both moved on to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup although neither has won a race all season. Instead they have navigated their way through the field with consistent high finishes all season.

Coming off a seven-victory 2013 season, Kenseth hasn’t been able to match his winning ways. Still, he ranks third in the NASCAR Sprint Series in both top-five (12) and top-10 (19) finishes. Facing elimination at Talladega on Sunday, sitting one point behind the cutoff line, Kenseth ironically teamed up with rival Brad Keselowski at the end of the race, drafting with him to a second-place finish.

Newman ranks ninth on the Sprint Cup circuit this season with 14 top-10 finishes. Although he has posted just three top-five efforts, he has stayed out of major trouble with only two finishes worse than 30th. The Richard Childress Racing driver has taken his consistency to a new level during the Chase as the only driver with top-10 performances in all three Eliminator Round races. Dating back to the August Atlanta race, Newman claims six top-10 efforts in his last eight starts. “Rocket Man” made a run at his first victory this weekend at Talladega, leading with ten laps remaining, but was eventually passed by Keselowski who blocked him on his way to the win. Newman ended up finishing fifth.

Advancing to the Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway without a win in the Eliminator Round will be a tough proposition for any Chase-contending driver. Three of the four Championship Round spots can be filled by drivers who win during the Eliminator Round.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.

Milestone Watch: Kurt Busch finished seventh at Talladega last Sunday, his 199th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-10 finish. With his next top 10, he’ll become the 31st driver to reach 200 top-10 finishes. … Hendrick Motorsports is still waiting for its 200th NSCS Coors Light Pole (it’s last came at Michigan in August (Jeff Gordon). Martinsville might be a good spot to get it; the team has 17 poles there, tied with Richmond and Charlotte as its most prolific track in terms of poles. … David Ragan will run a special paint scheme this weekend at Martinsville to honor NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott, who also drove the No. 34 car during his career. … Testing Update: Five teams will test at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct. 28-29): Stewart Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

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10/23/2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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