This Chase format is a fickle mistress. One week you’re in the outhouse, the next week the penthouse.
Just ask Kevin Harvick.
After Charlotte a week-and-a-half ago at Charlotte, Harvick was shotgun on the Chase field after a 38th-place finish. But then he goes to Kansas and leads 74 laps en route to a win and a ticket to the round of eight.
It should not be a surprise, though, for Harvick and his team. Since the elimination format was created, Harvick has never been eliminated in any of the rounds of the Chase (before the finale at Homestead). Last year, the team faced a must win at Dover in the first round. They won. In 2014, Harvick was on the cusp of going home in the round of eight in the penultimate race of the year. Boom! Win.
“These races are hard to win, and these guys are just so good at the details,” said Harvick. “You put their backs against the wall, and they get better.”
I find that quote very ironic when contrasted with his trashing of his pit crew earlier in this season.
The win for Harvick was his second in the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. has two as well, but he finds himself in a much more precarious situation after winning two-of-three in the round of 16. In the first two races of this round, he has 11th- and 13th-place finishes. Not bad, but with the stout competition, he is currently seventh in the standings, only 13 points from missing the round of eight. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but with Talladega looming, it gets a wee bit trickier. Anything can happen and a wreck probably sends you home.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of this format when you look at it in the context of a 36-race season. Basically, the playoffs are three three-race seasons and a final one-race shootout plugged onto the end. It doesn’t matter how good you were last “season” when the new one starts.
Just ask the Carolina Panthers.
Or Joey Logano.
Last year, Logano won all three races in the round of 12, wrecking Matt Kenseth in the process of one of those wins. The Penske team goes to the round of eight with all the momentum. A body-slam by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville and his season is done.
Let’s say Chase Elliott or Austin Dillon go out and win at Talladega (stranger things have happened) and Truex, with four wins on the year, gets turned about 100 laps in and finishes somewhere between 30th and 35th. Elliott or Dillon moves on while Truex and his four wins are racing for pride the rest of the year … foiled by the fickle finger of fate.
Or same scenario with Elliott or Dillon winning, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, who at 11th and 10th in the standings, respectively, have a good chance of being done racing for a championship despite four wins on the year. Four wins: penthouse. Focusing on getting better in 2017: outhouse.
“We just have the mindset of every race in the Chase to just go for it,” said Harvick in Kansas’s victory lane.
That’s the only way you are moving on these days, because it doesn’t matter what you did yesterday.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at [email protected]