Keselowski says dynamic has changed for Chase points leaders
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The excitement level over the next two Chase races could very well vary from fan to fan.
As teams have adjusted to the elimination format of NASCAR's playoffs, the goals now differ depending on where each driver sits in the standings .
Because five Chase drivers had trouble at Charlotte, Brad Keselowski believes the dynamic has changed for the rest of the field.
"The reality is, if you have a pretty good gap, you're probably going to take a log off the fire," Keselowski said.
The opening race of the second round of the Chase saw five drivers finish 30th or worse , and now only eight points separates Denny Hamlin in eight place from Kevin Harvick in 12th. Four drivers will be eliminated after Talladega next week, and Keselowski believes the paring will "absolutely" be four of the five currently sitting at the bottom of the standings.
Under his theory, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick are racing each other Sunday at Kansas Speedway and next week at Talladega. The rest of the field is simply trying to "live to fight another day."
What exactly does that mean? Well, the remaining drivers in the field may not take many risks because there's no need to put it all on the line. They have breathing room from the bottom of the field right now, and aren't desperate for victories or track position.
A year ago, Logano opened the second round of the Chase with a win at Charlotte that earned him an automatic berth in the third round. The next week, he raced Matt Kenseth very hard in the closing laps at Kansas to snatch away a win that Kenseth needed to get into the third round.
The victory was nothing more than a trophy for Logano and had far more meaning to Kenseth's playoff hopes. It ignited a feud that ultimately knocked Logano out of the playoffs in the next round.
"Everyone saw what happened with Joey, and they're not going to do that to themselves," Keselowski said of his teammate. "It's like basketball: you want to make sure you don't have a bunch of fouls and aren't worn out when the fourth quarter comes, because it seems like those are always five-point games in the fourth quarter. So don't be in a spot to foul out. Make sure you've got your legs beneath you."
Now that the current Chase format is two years old, he also believes teams will race to do whatever is needed to make it into the next round. As an example, he used the 2014 race at Texas Motor Speedway, where Keselowski went three-wide on a late restart to make contact with Jeff Gordon. It led to a cut tire for Gordon that cost him a shot at the win, and Gordon punched Keselowski on pit road after the race.
"That was a race I had to win and I knew he didn't have to win it," Keselowski said. "All he had to do was run like fourth or even 10th. In the moment when I made the move and we got together and he ended up blowing a tire, I was shocked that he didn't know the situation.
"Like, how do you not know the situation? I'm behind you with newer tires, you're not getting a good restart, all you need to do is run fifth. Know the situation."
Asked if all of this "hurts" the excitement level, Keselowski said it will be in the eye of the beholder.
"How do you define hurt? If you're a fan of mine or anyone who has the ability to (advance) through consistency? If you're a fan of someone who is out and has to dig real deep to make it through? I think it could be very exciting," he said. "I think it's just a matter of perspective."
Martinsville Speedway will become the first major race track with LED lights when it installs them for next season. Speedway President Clay Campbell called the lights an "insurance policy." During last year's race, it was nearly dark when Jeff Gordon crossed the finish line.
"If we would have had one more delay, we wouldn't have finished that race," Campbell said.
International Speedway Corp., which owns Martinsville, will pay for the lights. Martinsville will not have a night race in 2017 because the schedule has already been set. The spring race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET and the fall race is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.
Matin Truex Jr. is looking for some redemption when he makes his 400th career start Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Truex won the pole at the track in May and led a race-high 172 laps. But a loose wheel forced a late pit stop and Truex finished 14th.
Although he's won four races since that Kansas disappointment, he'd like a chance to get that victory back.
"We were dominant, but didn't close the deal," Truex said. "I am happy we're headed to Kansas, this is a race we feel we can run up front and possibly win. When we left Kansas in May, I said, 'If we keep on bringing cars like we had tonight we're going to win.' Since Kansas, we have done that."
In Truex's 399 starts, he has seven wins — five with Furniture Row Racing — 47 top-five finishes, 132 top-10s and 10 poles.
He is currently in the second round of NASCAR's playoffs.
Richard Childress Racing gave Ryan Newman a multi-year contract extension this week to continue driving the No. 31 Chevrolet.
"Ryan's consistency on the track has been a benefit to our organization and this extension solidifies the future of our racing program," said Richard Childress.
Newman was in the final year of a three-year contract with RCR. He made the Chase each of the last two seasons — advancing to the final round in 2014 — but missed a spot in the playoffs this season.
"Our goal to win a championship all but turned into a reality during our first year together," Newman said. "I feel like since then, we have some unfinished business to complete."
Newman was fourth in Sunday's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was his second top-five finish this season.