Chase watch Auto Club: Who will win and get in?
March 20, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
As March Madness begins, a quarter of NASCAR’s 16-driver Chase Grid bracket is filled in with four winners in four races of the season.
The First Four are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona); Kevin Harvick (Phoenix); Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas) and Carl Edwards (Bristol). Each driver has a championship pedigree with at least one title in NASCAR’s top-two national series with Keselowski earning honors in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Here are five drivers who could join the Winner’s Club and all but clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. It should be another fight to the finish like last year’s last-lap battle so we’ll start with the two combatants in that drama.
After winning the Coors Light Pole Award last Friday at Bristol, Hamlin was asked where he would most like to win a race: "California is No. 1 simply because we never made it to the finish last year. While we had a great shot to win it, we never made it. It would feel like you do have some redemption, and it would make a great story."
Hamlin should get off to a good start as he’s tied with Kurt Busch for most poles at Auto Club with three. Yet to win there, he has one top-five finish and four top-10s in 13 starts. It's Toyota's home track, and the manufacturer hopes to get its second consecutive and second overall win there this weekend. A victory also would practically place the first Camry in the 2014 Chase.
Logano nearly beat and banged his way to a win at Auto Club Speedway last March, and he won last August at its sister track, Michigan Speedway. He has two top-fives and two top-10s and in seven races at Auto Club. His two Nationwide victories have helped Joe Gibbs Racing to its current nine-race winning streak at the track. Logano is looking to return current owner Roger Penske to Victory Lane for the first time since 2001 at the track he built.
The home track for the El Cajon, Calif., native, Johnson is Auto Club Speedway's all-time leader in wins (5), laps led (851) and top-five finishes (12). He's tied for most top-10s (14) and lead-lap finishes (19 in 19 starts). He also has the best average start (9.6) and average finish (5.7) of all competitors at the facility. It’s no wonder then that he’s tops in Driver Rating. At 119.6, he's 10 points clear of his nearest challenger. Johnson hasn't won there since the spring of 2010 though. If he misses out on Victory Lane on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on FOX), tune-in next week at Martinsville.
Tied with Johnson for the most top-10s (14) and lead-lap finishes (19) at Auto Club Speedway, Kenseth has the third-best average finish (10.1) at the track, behind only Six-Time and Carl Edwards. Kenseth has finished all 21 of his Sprint Cup starts at the facility. Kenseth is one of four drivers with a Driver Rating over 100 at the track (105.5).
Rounding out the Joe Gibbs Racing roster, Busch earned his first career win at the track, becoming (at the time) the youngest Sprint Cup visitor to Victory Lane at 20 years, 4 months, 2 days in 2005. Earlier that year, he became the youngest Cup pole-sitter: 19 years, 9 months, 25 days. Busch is the defending winner of this race, and he has a Nationwide record six wins at the track, completing the weekend sweep there last season. Second only to Johnson in Driver Rating (109.2), he has seven top-5s and 11 top-10s in 16 starts.
Go deeper: Check out NASCAR’s Auto Club Speedway Statistical Analysis for more stats and notes for Sunday's Auto Club 400.
Heading into the fifth race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings looks:
|1.||Brad Keselowski||Winner: Las Vegas|
|2.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Winner: Daytona|
|3.||Carl Edwards||Winner: Bristol|
|4.||Kevin Harvick||Winner: Phoenix|
|5.||Jeff Gordon||4th in points|
|6.||Jimmie Johnson||5th in points|
|7.||Joey Logano||6th in points|
|8.||Denny Hamlin||7th in points|
|9.||Matt Kenseth||8th in points|
|10.||Ryan Newman||9th in points|
|11.||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
||10th in points|
||11th in points|
||12th in points|
|14.||Austin Dillon||13th in points|
|15.||Kyle Busch||14th in points|
|16.||Marcos Ambrose||15th in points|