Eight NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders rolled out of Martinsville, and only four will arrive in Homestead after the next two races with a chance to race for the championship.
The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, is the next big hurdle. Only three races remain on the 2014 schedule.
Some NASCAR fans may feel dismay over the new elimination Chase because their favorite driver became a victim of the ladder gauntlet that removes drivers and teams three races at a stretch.
Popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and perennial champion Jimmie Johnson are not in contention. Many Earnhardt fans have been consoled by his victory in Martinsville. Johnson has many fans too, but neither can be champion in 2014.
Still, the eight eligible Chase drivers have many fans as well. The final four drivers who will get a shot at Sprint Cup in Homestead are favorites for many NASCAR fans across the country. That’s the way NASCAR popularity works: Fans delight in selecting and following one specific driver and team. It’s a number on a stock car with human skill behind the wheel.
Several drivers are in trouble of being eliminated already. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick had poor results at Martinsville and must improve quickly in the next two races or be passed by. Carl Edwards is lagging also.
The remaining Sprint Cup contenders know the value of the next two races and shared their feelings before the green flag falls and their focus sharpens on track action.
Jeff Gordon focused on the Texas track.
"The track has a lot of speed and you can be aggressive," Gordon said. "But what I like about the track are the multiple grooves. The tires give up and the track 'widens' out, and you can start searching the track for a line that might work better for your car."
Ryan Newman pointed out his situation.
"We have been one of the most consistent teams when it comes to the Chase," Newman said. “We made improvements that allowed us to be championship contenders. We have to keep our nose to the grindstone, keep digging and digging. We need a win."
Joey Logano discussed his big Texas win earlier this year with the help of his crew chief.
"It put me and Todd Gordon on another level," Logano said. “He likes to give me tires and let me be aggressive. That’s really worked out well. I knew we were going to be strong, but I don’t think I thought at that point we’d be sitting here with five wins."
Matt Kenseth likes Texas, but he commented on his circumstances.
"Texas is a great race track and we have such great fan support as well," Kenseth said. "You never know what’s going to happen at any of these remaining tracks. The bottom line is that we need to run well at all of them in order to stay in this."
Edwards likes Texas too but emphasized his position.
"Texas is one of my favorite mile-and-halves to race on," Edwards said. "We only have two races left and we need to step it up and lock us into the final round. Our Aflac team is going there looking for a victory."
Keselowski advanced with a needed win and may need a win again even though he has been in Victory Lane more than any other driver. He spoke out.
"This new format has delivered plenty of excitement so far," Keselowski said. "Regardless of the format, we are running very well and this Miller Lite Ford team is very competitive this year. I am looking forward to this weekend."
Harvick got behind with a crash at Martinsville, but the next two tracks suit his skills. He shared his thoughts.
"Our mile-and-a-half stuff has really been our bread and butter this year, so I’m looking forward to getting back there and trying to get to Victory Lane," Harvick said. "That would really be the best spot to end up."
Fans without Texas tickets can catch the elimination action at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanctioned and team representatives.