The Chase draws a lot of emotion, whether it’s a win, or defeat. However, when factors that are outside of a driver or team’s control make a difference, the emotions go from anger and frustration, to hurrying, and eagerness.
One incident on track can make or break a Chase. At New Hampshire on Sunday, that was the case for many different Chase drivers. Kyle Busch, who earned his spot despite missing nearly half the regular season, crashed and finished deep in the field. He now is outside the cutoff for the next round, but finds himself in position where he could make it in simply on a strong finish.
However, for drivers like Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, things are are worse.
Bowyer had to reset an entire Chase after a penalty earlier in the week erased any points earned in the first Chase race, and with issues on track with tires, he now sits 86 points out of the lead.
Harvick, however, had the worst luck of everyone. He was dominant, leading over two-thirds of the race, but when it came to the late going, saving fuel was the key. A gap between pit stops left him in the position to somehow save enough to make it to the end. Unfortunately, his fuel cell ran dry, and it cost him.
His 25th-place finish puts him 15th in the standings, meaning next week, the only way he can continue his quest to defend his championship is to simply win.
One guy not needing to worry about his position in the next round of the Chase, winner Matt Kenseth. He was in the right spot, at the right time, and made it count. His victory, the fifth on the season for Kenseth, moves him into the next round, ensuring two representatives from Joe Gibbs Racing will continue their championship run.
Ironically enough, no one had Kenseth on their radar to win, and that means no locks into the next round. However, fuel issues, and restart violations, cost some writers dearly. Here’s the standings after the second Challenger Round event, the Sylvania 300:
Rob Tiongson (2093) Joey Logano finished 3rd – 4
Sal Sigala Jr. (2090) Joey Logano finished 3rd – 3
Ashley McCubbin (2083) Denny Hamlin finished 2nd – 1
Patti Rodisch (2077) Kurt Busch finished 19th – 4
Misan Akuya (2076) Brad Keselowski finished 12th – 2
Mary Jo Buchanan (2073) Brad Keselowski finished 12th – 1
Dustin Parks (2070) Kurt Busch finished 19th – 3
Rob Blount (2070) Kevin Harvick finished 21st – 2
Kara Martin (2070) Kevin Harvick finished 21st – 2
Klarissa Mitchell (2043) Kyle Busch finished 37th – 0
Next Race: In both the actual Chase and in the Pool, there is a sense of desperation for some involved. For drivers like Harvick and Bowyer, there is only one way they are advancing into the next round: win. There is no other option in the final Challenger Round event, it is win or nothing.
Others can win, but they are in a good position where advancing is highly possible without it.
But each individual wants a win, and for some, it is their last chance. The only way to get that victory is to conquer some concrete, and make a monster tame. This monster has a bite, a craving for metal, oil, hoses and rubber, and his bite will grab anyone, at any time.
It’s the “Monster Mile” that will eliminate four drivers in the Chase, and will also eliminate two writers from the Pool. So, I expect different picks once again, but they must be locked in by Thursday, October 1, at 10 p.m. ET for the AAA 400.