NASCAR Talk’s Dustin Long and Nate Ryan discuss some of the key issues heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway and the beginning of the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
DUSTIN – Busch is saying what he believes and what has been evident throughout the season. Gordon has not finished ahead of both Logano and Harvick in any of the nine races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Homestead is a 1.5-mile track. Logano’s average finish on such tracks this season is 5.1, Harvick’s average finish s 9.3, and Gordon’s average finish is 13.8. While anything can happen in one race for the title, the odds wouldn’t be in Gordon’s favor. Simple as that.
NATE – Busch’s take makes sense in context. He’s questioning whether Gordon has shown the speed associated with a title, and the Hendrick Motorsports driver hasn’t — his third at Talladega was his first top five of the Chase. Gordon readily admits to advancing through the Chase with stealthy consistency and maximizing his results without having race-winning cars. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a threat for the championship. As Busch himself noted, if Homestead turns into a “circus” — i.e. the unexpected adversely affects the favorites — any of the four eligible drivers could win the title, regardless of their speed.
Would Martinsville be a better elimination race and then have Talladega as the opening race of the third round?
DUSTIN – Let’s be honest, NASCAR likes Talladega in this spot because it builds drama in the middle of the Chase. With Talladega’s unpredictability, no one is seemingly safe to advance to the next round other than a race winner from the same round. While there could be some such drama having the elimination at a short track, I’m not sure it would be as great. Keep it as it is.
NATE – I think any track would be an improvement as an elimination race over Talladega. Beyond just its results being arbitrary, the track’s tendency for producing bizarre outcomes such as Sunday’s make it an imperfect showcase for NASCAR’s most pivotal races. There’s been a groundswell of support for swapping Talladega’s position with Richmond and making it the regular-season finale, and that might make as much sense as any move. With the Chase field largely set after 25 races, allowing Talladega to finalize the playoff contenders probably would be the most sensible way of minimizing its impact on the playoffs while also keeping it on the schedule twice without creating logistical problems for the track.
Who are your four drivers to reach Homestead?
NATE – Considering only one of my original four (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth) reached the third round (and barely), it feels illegitimate to whittle down the remaining eight. But my four would be: Busch, Gordon, Harvick, Logano.
Would you have a problem if Matt Kenseth paid back Joey Logano at Martinsville for their Kansas incident?
DUSTIN – I guess you could call it “quintessential” NASCAR. If I’m Logano and that happens to me and costs me a chance at the title, then I make sure Kenseth never wins a title in his remaining years in the sport. Kenseth blocked, Logano held his ground and Kenseth spun at Kansas. Wrecking purely in retribution at Martinsville would, in my mind, give Logano the right to return the favor to Kenseth some day.
NATE – Yes, if it were a blatant takeout maneuver during an inconsequential battle for position. But if it happens in a manner similar to Kansas — jockeying for a win or a strong finish in the latter stages of the race — Kenseth absolutely is on solid ground to play rough with Logano without losing any sleep.