Then there were eight, as the surviving championship contenders take to the track this weekend at Martinsville. It is damn near over, but that overweight soprano has yet to warble, so we have a few notes to wait for between now and Homestead.
First, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are bound to be among the final four. Probably. Maybe. If they manage to record Top Ten finishes this Sunday, as well as at Texas and Phoenix, add a few stage points, then all will be fine. If. A blown engine. A failed part. A wreck. Now, that could change everything. Not much wiggle room, but those two boys have more than anyone.
Martin Truex Jr. is our defending champion on a team about to become a ghost after this season. He is 23 points to the good. That is almost enough for a free pass…for one race…almost.
We have been waiting to see which of the new generation would firmly put his foot down and emerge as a true star of the future. Chase Elliott has provided us with the answer. In claiming two of the past three, he is the gent in that final transfer spot. It is not by much. Three points. Three points can come and go in a lap.
Three hounds are chasing the fox. Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch are tied for fifth. For them, everything will be a big thing. Qualifying. Stage points. Finishes. Everything.
Finally, there is Aric Almirola. There are no more Talladega experiences coming up. No teammates to take him down the yellow brick road. This week, especially, he is on his own. As he comes in nine points out, he has to prove he belongs in this company. This week. Next week. The following week. If he can do that, he will truly deserve to be in the hunt in mid-November at Homestead.
The third round of the playoffs begins this Sunday at Martinsville with eight men out to lay a claim on a championship.
1. KYLE BUSCH – 4055 POINTS (7 Wins)
The Big Three…
2. KEVIN HARVICK – 4054 POINTS (7 Wins)
…remain the Top Three…
3. MARTIN TRUEX, JR. – 4038 POINTS (4 Wins)
…but will there be room for all three when they arrive at Homestead?
4. CHASE ELLIOTT – 4018 POINTS (3 Wins)
Three wins in his last 11 starts mean the lad has finally arrived and is a contender.
5. CLINT BOWYER – 4015 POINTS (2 Wins)
Just four spots remain to be in that final run for the championship…
6. JOEY LOGANO – 4015 POINTS (1 Win)
…but should a couple of the boys down here claim a win…
7. KURT BUSCH – 4015 POINTS (1 Win)
…then all bets are off.
8. ARIC ALMIROLA – 4006 POINTS (1 Win)
Almirola will not be among them. I love Talladega, but it is not a true indicator of what is to come.
9. RYAN BLANEY – 2212 POINTS (1 Win)
Had a good day last week, but as things turned out he needed to sweep the stages or win.
10. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2194 POINTS (3 Wins)
To be a Top Ten ranked driver these days one has to win, though sometimes three is not enough.
11. KYLE LARSON – 2178 POINTS
Even a Top Three finish proved too little too late for some.
12. DENNY HAMLIN – 2159 POINTS
A Fistful of Dollars and a Handful of Martinsville wins. It is never too late to be a winner.
13. AUSTIN DILLON – 2150 POINTS (1 Win)
Do you remember Daytona in February? Me neither.
14. ERIK JONES – 2148 POINTS (1 Win)
Jones is in a Toyota, one of the few who are. How does that bode for 2019?
15. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2148 POINTS
Here is hoping for a 10th and final Jimmie-Chad Martinsville celebration.
16. ALEX BOWMAN – 2144 POINTS
Bowman drives a bowtie. Am I the only one seeing the advertising potential of this?
17. RYAN NEWMAN – 663 POINTS
Newman drives a bowtie. Next season, it will be a blue oval. At least it is not a Toyota.
18. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 632 POINTS
No sweat working with Stenhouse, but driving is an entirely different matter for Kasey Kahne.
19. PAUL MENARD – 630 POINTS
There was a Menard sighting at Kansas, but that ended in the middle of the second stage.
20. DANIEL SUAREZ – 627 POINTS
Former crew chief Scott Graves will join Newman with Roush next season.