By AMANDA VINCENT
The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls into Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500. It’s the sixth Chase race, overall, but it’s the third of three races that make up the second, or Contender, round. Four drivers will be eliminated from the Chase at the post-season’s biggest wild card, with the Chase field reduced from 12 drivers to eighth.
Joey Logano is the only driver with his championship survival guaranteed beyond Talladega with wins in the other two races of the second round at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
“Really, the only way you feel comfortable is if you have a win, and for us we were able to get those two and set ourselves up in a good spot for that weekend and then,obviously, be able to move to the next round,” Logano said.
Of the other remaining 11 Chase drivers, some are in more control of their Chase destinies than others, at least as far as race finishes go. Of course, any of them would advance with a win on Sunday. For those in the bottom of the Chase standings — Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth — a win is the only way they are in control of the possibility of their Chase advancement. Without a win, they have to depend on the performance, or lack thereof, of the Chase drivers ahead of them in the standings.
Even so, Earnhardt, at least publicly, is confident heading into Talladega.
“I wouldn’t rather be going anywhere else than Talladega for the next race if we need a win, Earnhardt said. “That is a good opportunity for us. Even over Daytona, I think we can go to Talladega and do the job. There is a little more room there to be aggressive and make the moves you need to make. I got the car. That car won the 125 (Budweiser Duel), ran third in the (Daytona) 500 and won Talladega and won Daytona. That is a good enough car. I wouldn’t want to be going anywhere else if it’s a win and you are in kind of deal.”
Denny Hamlin is second to Logano in the standings, 18 points to the good, making him the driver in the best position to advance to the third round, also known as the Eliminator round, with a second round win. That being said, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch was in second, 26 points to the good, this time year ago before being taken out of the Chase in a Talladega wreck not of his doing.
To secure Chase advancement without a win, Hamlin will need to finish 14th or better if he doesn’t lead a lap to control his own destiny and advance. If he leads at least one lap, that minimum requirement reduces to 15th or better. If he finishes 16th or better and leads the most laps, he’ll certainly advance to the next round.
Here are the requirements for the other Chasers:
Kurt Busch — eighth with no laps led, ninth with at least one lap led or 10th and most laps led.
Carl Edwards — seventh with no laps led, eighth with at least one lap led or ninth and most laps led
Kevin Harvick — third with no laps led, fourth with at least one lap led or fifth and most laps led.
Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski — second or better with no laps led, third or better with at least one lap led or fourth or better and most laps led.
Martin Truex Jr. — second or better with at least one lap led or third or better and most laps led.
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