The Round of 12: The Chase for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup

The first round of “the Chase” is behind us and just about the entire field seems to be a whole level behind Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Truex and Busch are just on an entire level above the rest of “the Chase” field. The first three races of “the Chase” were dominated by both Busch and Truex.

Truex (leading) and Busch were the class of the field all race.

The first race of “the Chase” was at Chicagoland. This race was all Busch and Truex. Kyle Busch led the most laps out of anyone in the race with 85, but ran into some late race trouble and ended up 15th. Busch was hit twice as hard because he needed to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel and on the stop, he had a crewman over the wall too soon, so he ended up needing to come down pit lane again for a drive-through penalty. This put Busch a lap down late and he never recovered. This paved a path for Truex to take the lead, lead for 77 laps, and take the win. But there were some issues for Truex, too. He had an early race penalty which set him back, but he was able to battle back after he served his penalty. The fact that Truex got penalized but still led 77 laps and got the win just shows how good he and his team have been all year long. Between Busch and Truex, they led 162 of 267 laps at Chicagoland, which is well over half the race.

These two were easily the class of the field, and if it wasn’t for the penalty to Busch, I would bet that he would have won the race with Truex finishing second. But instead, Busch took 15th, Truex got the win, and my underdog pick from before “the Chase” started, Chase Elliot, got second place. Other significant “Chase” finishers in that race included Rick Stenhouse Jr in 25th, Ryan Newman who placed 23rd, and Kasey Kahne in 21st. So not a good start for them.

This must be a sight the rest of the field is getting sick of seeing, Kyle Busch out front.

The second race of “the Chase” was in New Hampshire. There were two cars that dominated the entire race, and when I say dominated, I mean really DOMINATED this time. I’m willing to bet you can guess the two I’m talking about. Yeah, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex. Its almost like they are the only two cars in the field at times. To put their dominance in perspective, the race in New Hampshire was 300 laps long. Kyle Busch won the race and led for 187 laps, and Martin Truex, who ended up finishing 5th after being involved in a wreck which dropped him to 17th at the time, led for112 laps. let’sets do some math. Between the two of them, they led 299 of the 300 laps. I’m no math major, but it doesn’t take a math major to realize that they led every lap but one. ONE!! Congrats to Kyle Larson (my pick to win it all) on leading that one lap and eventually finishing in a solid second place. His second-place finish locked him into the next round based on points, so a good day at the office for Larson as well.  So this race was almost a carbon copy of the first “Chase” race, except this time Busch got the win while Truex ran into issues which may have cost him the win. But they were both easily the two best cars in the field… again.

Elliot (leading) couldn’t hold off Busch (trailing) long enough to capture his first career win.

The last race of “the Chase” was at Dover, a.k.a. the Monster Mile. There were two cars that combined to lead more than half the race at Dover. Can you guess who? Well, you’re probably wrong, because it wasn’t Truex and Busch. This time around Chase Elliot led the most laps with 138 while Kyle Larson led 137. The total race distance was 400 laps so they combined to lead for a majority of the race. And as a plus, Elliot was leading second-place Kyle Busch by four seconds with 40 laps to go, and as ANOTHER plus, Elliot is yet to win a race at the Monster Energy Cup level. So one would think that with a four-second lead and 40 laps left, Elliot’s would have the win unless something crazy happens. Well, I’ll tell you right now, the last 40 laps ran caution free, but did that matter to Kyle Busch. Nope. He passed Elliot with two laps to go and stole Elliot’s first win from him and went on to take the win. Unfortunately, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me when Busch caught up, and won, again. Truex came home with a quiet, but effective fifth-place finish. And poor Chase Elliot finished second, but in his post-race interview looked like he got dead last. But with the quality finish, he locked himself into the round of 12.

So after the first three races of “the Chase”, the round of 16 has turned into the round of 12. The drivers that were eliminated include Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch. There are now 12 drivers remaining that are eligible for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. If you wish to view the current standings, click here.

Both of Stenhouse’s wins have come on superspeedways, why can’t he make it another?

Amongst the 12 remaining drivers, there is one driver that I’m going to be focusing on a lot these next three races and that’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. I don’t think he can make it to the round of 8 without winning one of the next three races, but Talladega Superspeedway is two weeks away. Stenhouse has two wins on the season thus far, one at Daytona Superspeedway and the other at Talladega. So why can’t he get the Superspeedway hat trick? I can’t come up with any reasons. That “17 car” has been dominant on Superspeedways this year so don’t be surprised to see Ricky Stenhouse pulling his #17 car into victory lane at Talladega in a few weeks.

Don’t be surprised if you see the “24 car” pulling into victory lane, sooner rather than later.

I think the biggest surprise of “the Chase” thus far has been the performance of Chase Elliot. I’m not saying this because he’s my “dark horse” pick from before “the Chase”, he has actually looked really good thus far. He had a quality 2nd place finish at Chicagoland in the first race. He was somewhat underwhelming at New Hampshire, where he finished 11th. But he came about a lap and a half short of winning his first career race in the third race at Dover. I’m expecting much of the same from Elliot in the round of 12 with quality finishes on quality finishes. That “24 car” has looked really good so far during “the Chase” and at this point, I would be surprised if he doesn’t win a race by the season finale. SO I’m feeling pretty good about my pick I made before “the Chase” started. If you don’t remember I said that Chase Elliot would be the fourth driver to make it into the final round of “the Chase”, along with Martin Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson. So as of right now, I think that prediction is looking pretty good.

 

 

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