After the completion of the fall Dover Sprint Cup Race, the first set of 2014 Chase hopefuls who didn’t make the cut fell to the wayside. Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola all had hopes of making it to the final race in Homestead-Miami, contending for the 2014 Sprint Cup, but all fell short in the first three races of the new Chase format.
Now, haulers are heading out to Kansas Speedway to start the second round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Kansa hosts the first of three races in the 2nd round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, called the Contender round. The other two in the Contender round are a track near and dear to my heart (and two hours down the road) — Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the wildcard restrictor plate adventure that is Talladega Superspeedway. After Talladega, four more drivers hopes of a Sprint Cup in 2014 will come to an end. So who will those four be? Who will fall in the 2014 Contender round?
Anything can happen with a win — and that could be anyone at Talladega Superspeedway. But based on history and the 2014 season in general, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will be strong and advance to the the Eliminator round via either a win or the consistency the four have demonstrated this season.
Not joining them will be these four Sprint Cup drivers:
Kasey Kahne: As fan of the No. 5 driver, I’m sad to say he’s unlikely to make it further than the second round. While points reset each round, Kahne only made it into the Contender round by 2 points. His single win in the regular season was great, but doesn’t match up to the other three Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne has also had his share of bad luck, and I fear there may be more. As a fan, I’d be elated to be wrong, but I expect Talladega to be the No. 5 team’s last race as 2014 Sprint Cup hunt.
Carl Edwards: The Fords in the Sprint Cup series as a whole have struggled in 2014, save for the duo at Penske Racing.
While Cousin Carl has a lot to prove in his final season in a Ford with Roush-Fenway, his Dover 11th place finish is indicative of his performance overall this season — OK, but not enough to be there in Miami.
Ryan Newman: In his first year at Richard Childress Racing, Newman has exceeded expectations by getting into the NASCAR post-season. He’s been quietly consistent for most of 2014, but hasn’t had a win this season. While the No. 31 driver has averaged about an 11th place finish over the last 5 races, Newman won’t be able to make it past the second round.
Denny Hamlin: Like Penske and Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing can boast they have all their drivers in the 2014 Chase, but all three of the JGR drivers feel shaky to go deep into the Sprint Cup Chase. It really was a toss up, but of the three, I think Hamlin will be the first of three Toyota drivers to drop out.
Matt Kenseth has shown a lot more consistency, and Kyle Busch is more of a wheelman. With his extra-curricular driving in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, that ups the No. 18 chances as well.
Like Kahne, Hamlin has had his share of bad luck in 2014, and it may not be over. He’s also shown a lot of frustration with his team, and crew chief Darian Grubb had mirrored that frustration. This frustration could end up being a Chase cancer that ultimately keeps the No. 11 team from moving past the Contender round.
All in all, Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega will all be exciting. Tempers will flare. Tires will go down. Pit strategy will factor in. At the end of Talladega, only eight will remain. Four will enter the following weekend at Martinsville Speedway with their hopes of a Sprint Cup gone.