With only three races remaining, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is coming down to the wire. After the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the first race in the Chase ‘Round of Eight’, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards found themselves in the spooky spot, below the playoff standings cut line.
Logano started on the front row in second. The driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford led 21 laps and earned his 23rd top-10 finish. With his win at Talladega in the ‘Round of 12’, Logano began the day second in the Chase standings.
When 151 of 500 laps were completed on the .526-mile track, he had dropped to third in the points-as-they-run but still hung on to a top-four spot. However with 36 laps remaining, the Connecticut native fell to fifth. “Overall, we had a top-5 car, but we didn’t have the race play out the way we needed it to,” Logano explained in a Ford Racing post-race report.
When a caution flew for an accident involving Edwards’ No. 19 SportClips Toyota in the middle of a green-flag pit stop cycle on lap 358, it caused a tangle on the leaderboard. After it took 28 laps to reset the field, Logano was awarded the wave around.
“No one made a mistake or is at fault, but that caution came out that jumbled the field up and we had the wave around to get back on the lead lap,” Logano said. Then when we waved around we were like thirty-something on the race track, so we just maintained. I just needed a caution to get caught up. I was hoping for a quick five-lap run and a caution so we could get caught up with those guys, but our car was better than ninth. We raced in the top five early in the race and that’s probably where we should have finished, but that’s racing sometimes. Sometimes you’re on each end of it. We got an OK day out of it – nothing bad and nothing great – but we got through it.”
Although he is currently fifth in the Chase standings with 4,033 points, Logano is still optimistic he can move up. “We need to be better than that to get to Homestead, but we’re not far off at all.”
Edwards started seventh on the grid but it was not a good day for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver as he ran into tire problems.
“Goodyear was kind enough and I have a lot of respect for them – they came down here and looked at the tire and said it was a belt failure so that’s really big of them to say, ‘Hey, there’s nothing you could have done about it.’ We had a really good race going and sometimes that’s just what happens in racing,” Edwards said in a Toyota Racing transcript. “I just feel bad for Sport Clips, I think we had a top-three car.”
Edwards knows he is going to have to turn on the jets at Texas and Phoenix if he hopes to make the ‘Championship Four’ at Homestead. “We want to try to win each one of these races this round,” he said. “Things like that happen in racing though and we have a heck of a crew. It’s a high performance sport and everybody is pushing everything. We could have won both Texas and Phoenix earlier this year so I feel very confident going to those two tracks so we’ll be alright.”
Edwards holds down the eighth-place spot in the playoff standings with 4,005 points.
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are also facing elimination. While Harvick finished in the top 20 at Martinsville, Busch finished just outside at 22nd.
“We missed it. I don’t know where, how, why, we missed it,” the No. 41 State Water Heaters Chevrolet driver said in a Team Chevy post-race release. “Even SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) as a group we didn’t perform well. That was not the day we needed.”
The June Pocono race winner is not ready to throw in the towel. “I have no idea, but we will figure something out,” he said. “We came all this way we won’t give up now.”
Busch is seventh in the standings with 4,019 points.
The bottom four is nothing new to Harvick, who sits sixth in the standings with 4,201 points. The driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Chevrolet has already had to dig himself out of the hole twice by winning New Hampshire in the ‘Round of 16’ and Kansas in the ‘Round of 12’.
"We were slow all weekend,” Harvick said of his Martinsville performance, also in the Team Chevy transcript. “We could just never get the handle on it."
While he has a shot in Texas, Harvick’s best chance to propel himself to run at a second Cup championship could come at Phoenix, a place where he has won six out of the last seven races. "I haven't really looked at it,” he said about the standings. “We will see."