Things falling right for Harvick
As he’s done so many times in the past, Kevin Harvick came through with the win just when he needed it most. Harvick won at Kansas and dug himself out of a big points deficit to ensure a spot in the next round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Harvick might just be the new holder of the title “Mr. October” for his clutch performances when he needs them. Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers in the remaining Chase field of 12 to go into Sunday’s race without fear of being eliminated. It’s Talladega, the biggest wild card on the Chase schedule, where the Big One ruins anybody’s race and season.
Talladega is one of the two tracks on the schedule where the much-despised restrictor plate robs the cars of horsepower and limits throttle response, leading to large drafting packs. And, when someone makes the slightest mistake in one of those packs, chaos usually ensues. Despite the uncertainty of getting caught up in a major wreck, some drivers seem to perform better than others at the big 2.66 mile tri-oval. The late Dale Earnhardt Sr. won there 10 times. Brad Keselowski is the current king of Talladega with four wins to his credit, the most recent of which was this spring. His Penske Ford Teammate Joey Logano won last fall’s Talladega Chase race, his only victory there. Jimmie Johnson has two Talladega wins, but it’s been five years since he visited victory lane at the track. Other winners over the past few years include Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan, and Jamie McMurray, with just one victory apiece. Among those, Earnhardt isn’t competing Sunday, and Ragan and McMurray aren’t in the Chase.
Looking at the Chase field, Logano is tied with Austin Dillon for eighth place, so whichever one finishes ahead of the other has a good chance to transfer to the Round of Eight. Hamlin is six points behind the cutoff line to transfer, and Keselowski is seven points back. The driver most in need of a win to make a transfer spot is rookie Chase Elliott, who finds himself 25 points in arrears. Talladega often comes down to choosing the right drafting partner and making a move in the final laps. I have no doubt Sunday’s race will continue that pattern. Weather shouldn’t be a factor, with sunny skies and mild temperatures predicted for Sunday’s race. In fact, it’s been 20 years since Talladega saw a rain-shortened race.
Two Camping World Truck series drivers will be eliminated at Talladega from the first-ever Chase format championship for the series. Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek are both outside looking in, tied at 15 points behind Johnny Sauter, who’s on the bubble in sixth place. Points leader William Byron is the only Chase driver with a win in the Round of Eight, so he will automatically advance.
The Formula One circus makes its only U.S. appearance this weekend, racing at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The two Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, are locked in a points battle for the driving championship with Rosberg 33 points ahead. If Hamilton wins every one of the remaining four races and Rosberg finishes second in all of them, Rosberg would win the title by five points. So three-time champion Hamilton has to hope his races are flawless from here on out, and that his teammate will have at least one bad finish. It’s unlikely, but possible. Should Rosberg hang onto win the championship, it would be his first. That scenario would carry on a family tradition, as his father Keke Rosberg was F1 champion in 1982. Mercedes has already clinched the constructor’s championship for the third year in a row. Even if the second-place Red Bull team finishes one-two in the remaining races and the Mercedes drivers are shut out, Red Bull would still come up 36 points short.