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Narrowing the Field

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Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2018 10:02 pm

The drama and intensity of the second cutoff race came and went last week in Kansas. It was somewhat emblematic of the cutoff race in the Round 16 at Charlotte’s Roval course, when leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson spun each other out just moments before each was poised to cross the finish line. Although the same four drivers below the cut line prior to Kansas were the same four who were eliminated, Ryan Blaney made a valiant effort to overcome his deficit and advance, while Kyle Larson finished third in the race, nearly moving forward by virtue of a victory. Chase Elliott now carries the banner for NASCAR’s young guns, as he garnered his second win in three weeks in the Kansas race.

Not to say we didn’t have drama in races other than the ones that were cutoff events because we did. Whether it was the Monster Mile of Dover or the thrills and unpredictability of Talladega Superspeedway, the Round of 12 was full of some of those “wow” moments that fans can identify with on a playoff stage. Those races included the second career victories for both Elliott and Aric Almirola, respectively. It put the son of a NASCAR legend and Hall of Famer, and the son of a Cuban refugee in the Round of 8.

Now we move on to the Round of 8, as half the playoff field that took the green flag in Las Vegas on September 16 have now been eliminated from championship contention. The “Elite 8” if you will, now battles for three more

races to determine who gets the right to race for a championship in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18.

When Elliott and Almirola took the checkered flags in the previous round, it guaranteed them a spot among eight drivers. A win now by any one of the eight in Martinsville this week, Texas next week or Phoenix after that guarantees that driver the opportunity to make history and fulfill their dreams right here in our own backyard. The beauty of that is that after Sunday, we could know the first driver to have punched his ticket to Miami. The more the field gets whittled away, the greater the sense of urgency. It’s no coincidence that a driver who was still in the playoffs has won all six playoff races so far this year, and that a driver among the Championship 4 has captured the Ford EcoBoost 400 championship all four years under the current format.

Either way, the anticipation begins this weekend, and it is intriguing knowing that we could have our first Championship 4 entrant as early as Sunday. In 2014, we didn’t know until after the final race of the Round of 8 in Phoenix. The following year we found out that Jeff Gordon would be among the four in his final full-time season after the opening race in the Round of 8 in Martinsville. Last year, half of the Championship 4 field was determined after the first two races of the Round of 8 as a result of victories by Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

To nobody’s surprise, Harvick (2014) and Busch (2015) – both former champions – are back in the Round of 8. It is a field that also includes two other former champions in Kurt Busch (2004) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017). For Kurt Busch, it would mark his first venture into the Championship 4 since the current format came about in 2014. Joey Logano would be making his third Championship 4 appearance while Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Elliott are seeking to be a part of that elite company for the first time.

So, if any one of these eight fights through with a win this weekend in Martinsville, it will undoubtedly be the first of many great storylines that are sure to exist heading into Ford Championship Weekend.

A win is one way to ensure entry into the prestigious field. At this point momentum means very little. Just ask Brad Keselowski, who won the final two regular season races and the opening race of the playoffs. However, he encountered numerous obstacles in the Round of 12 and will be partaking in the final four races of the season for pride. So although Chase Elliott won two of the three races in the Round of 12, I’m certain he is not taking anything from granted, and there is precedence to prove it.

The other interesting element when we embark on the Round of 8 in Martinsville this weekend is that half of the remaining playoff field is from the same race team – Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s a team that dominated during the regular season and they have been able to translate that success into the playoffs. It’s reminiscent of 2016 when all four Joe Gibbs racing drivers were in the Round of 8. While it’s conceivable that all four can advance to the championship round, the odds are stacked against it, especially with the likes of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. looking to make a statement of their own. And you can be sure that with everything that exists and what’s at stake, the Stewart-Haas drivers might be teammates from Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday.

And for the next four weeks Sunday is what will matter most, as the most exciting quartet of the NASCAR schedule commences this Sunday in Martinsville, and concludes right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18.


Sunday, October 28 at 2:30 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

The NASCAR XFINITY Series is off this weekend. The series will return on Saturday, November 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Saturday, October 27 at 1:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch 90


October 26 Fast Lane Friday

October 26-28 Driving 101 NASCAR Racing


October 29 Miami Exotics Auto Racing


Nov. 16 Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 17 Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 18 Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship

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