Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Far from Settled: Five Questions after Kansas

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
A little bump never hurt anyone, right?

That’s what Logano’s thinking after Sunday’s race at Kansas, where the ending overshadowed the entire event. With the 1.5-mile track in the rearview mirror, it’s time to discuss what the Chase Grid looks like, what lies ahead, and who’s sitting pretty.

Oh, and did I mention Talladega is this weekend? Yeah, it’s bound to get ugly real quick. Here are my five questions following Kansas.

Who was in the wrong, Logano or Kenseth? The highlight of Sunday’s race was Joey Logano spinning Matt Kenseth for the lead with under 20 laps to go. Kenseth saved the car but not his chances of visiting victory lane. Logano went on to win for the second time in two weeks. It was undoubtedly the move of the race—but was it clean? More importantly, who was in the wrong? The No. 20 had every right to block and drive defensively. However, the No. 22 was upset, and that’s completely understandable. In my mind, the moves cancel each other out. There’s no question that it was a very intense moment on track, but that’s exactly what the Chase is meant to produce. I don’t understand why everyone is taking sides and saying someone is in the wrong; you can have a moment of pure competitiveness without it being dirty. It was clean, hard racing—and we don’t get enough of it. I thank Logano and Kenseth for the spirited battle, and you should, too.

Has Kansas lost its luster? Aside from the aforementioned scuffle, the Chase race at Kansas Speedway was anything but thrilling. It felt like something was missing, and I realized what it was. Goodyear brought a harder tire this time around, taking away the abundance of tire issues we’ve seen at the track before. No matter what you think, that element added excitement, and its absence was quite clear. However, the entire race could have been 100 times better if we had the low downforce package tested earlier this season. I sound like a broken record, but for good reason. Tracks like Kansas need that extra something to spice things up, and that package is it. Sorry, not sorry.

What green-white-checkered rule will be used at Talladega? The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Talladega Superspeedway, the unprecedented wild card of the Chase. It is not only a restrictor plate track but also an elimination race. With Logano scooping up both victories of this round, the other 11 drivers are nervous, the media is nervous, everyone’s just really nervous, OK? The thing that has me on edge is the fact that NASCAR hasn’t announced the GWC rule for this weekend. There’s bound to be an accident near the end. Will we go for a three-lap shootout? Or will NASCAR decide to take another route? I just hope we know before the race weekend gets underway.

Can the bottom four pull off a miracle? The next batch of eliminated drivers is full of big names; Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth sit ninth through 12th on the Chase Grid. This group has their backs to the wall, yet shouldn’t be counted out. Second-place Denny Hamlin is only 18 points ahead of the cutoff line. This is far from settled—especially if you consider who we’re doubting. The words "Earnhardt" and "Talladega" instill fear whenever mentioned in the same sentence. Saying he’s done is a stupid move. Last year, Kyle Busch was over 20 points to the good coming into the superspeedway and still got eliminated. Nobody above the cutoff line is safe, and nobody below it is hopeless.

With the Chase halfway over, who’s pulling away? Everyone is still in contention for the 2015 NSCS title. With that said, there are some drivers who catch my eye. Of course, Logano is one of them; he’s established his dominance and seems unstoppable at the moment. The Team Penske driver is making it known that he’s not going down without a fight. He and his crew dropped the ball at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, and Logano doesn’t want people to think there will be a repeat performance. With that said, I think he’ll have some competition in the next five races from an old teammate and rival. As I previously mentioned, Hamlin is second in points at the moment. He’s been quiet this round but is putting up a great fight. I’ll admit I counted him out—especially since he has a torn ACL—but I’ll probably be eating crow before long. It’s a long way until Miami, but the No. 11 will be a threat if he’s in the final four. Homestead is his kind of track. Of the 12 drivers that remain, those two are the ones to watch at the moment. 

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