Goals in Chase play­offs dif­fer from team to team

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

The ex­cite­ment level over the next two Chase races could vary from fan to fan. As teams ad­just to the elim­i­na­tion for­mat of NAS­CAR’s play­offs, the goals now dif­fer de­pend­ing on where each driver sits in the stand­ings.

The ex­cite­ment level over the next two Chase races could very well vary from fan to fan.

As teams have ad­justed to the elim­i­na­tion for­mat of NAS­CAR’s play­offs, the goals now dif­fer de­pend­ing on where each driver sits in the stand­ings.

Be­cause five Chase driv­ers had trou­ble at Charlotte, Brad Ke­selowski be­lieves the dy­namic has changed for the rest of the field.

“The re­al­ity is, if you have a pretty good gap, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to take a log off the fire,” Ke­selowski said.

The open­ing race of the sec­ond round of the Chase saw five driv­ers fin­ish 30th or worse, and now only eight points sep­a­rates Denny Hamlin in eight place from Kevin Har­vick in 12th. Four driv­ers will be elim­i­nated af­ter Tal­ladega next week, and Ke­selowski be­lieves the par­ing will “ab­so­lutely” be four of the five cur­rently sit­ting at the bot­tom of the stand­ings.

Un­der his the­ory, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Chase El­liott, Joey Logano and Kevin Har­vick are rac­ing each other Sunday at Kansas Speedway and next week at Tal­ladega. The rest of the field is sim­ply try­ing to “live to fight another day.”

What ex­actly does that mean? Well, the re­main­ing driv­ers in the field may not take many risks be­cause there’s no need to put it all on the line. They have breath­ing room from the bot­tom of the field right now, and aren’t des­per­ate for vic­to­ries or track po­si­tion.

A year ago, Logano opened the sec­ond round of the Chase with a win at Charlotte that earned him an au­to­matic berth in the third round. The next week, he raced Matt Kenseth very hard in the clos­ing laps at Kansas to snatch away a win that Kenseth needed to get into the third round.

The vic­tory was noth­ing more than a tro­phy for Logano and had far more mean­ing to Kenseth’s play­off hopes. It ig­nited a feud that ul­ti­mately knocked Logano out of the play­offs in the next round.

“Ev­ery­one saw what hap­pened with Joey, and they’re not go­ing to do that to them­selves,” Ke­selowski said of his team­mate. “It’s like bas­ket­ball: you want to make sure you don’t have a bunch of fouls and aren’t worn out when the fourth quar­ter comes, be­cause it seems like those are al­ways five-point games in the fourth quar­ter. So don’t be in a spot to foul out. Make sure you’ve got your legs be­neath you.”

Now that the cur­rent Chase for­mat is two years old, he also be­lieves teams will race to do what­ever is needed to make it into the next round. As an ex­am­ple, he used the 2014 race at Texas Mo­tor Speedway, where Ke­selowski went three-wide on a late restart to make con­tact with Jeff Gor­don. It led to a cut tire for Gor­don that cost him a shot at the win, and Gor­don punched Ke­selowski on pit road af­ter the race.

“That was a race I had to win and I knew he didn’t have to win it,” Ke­selowski said. “All he had to do was run like fourth or even 10th. In the mo­ment when I made the move and we got to­gether and he ended up blow­ing a tire, I was shocked that he didn’t know the sit­u­a­tion.

“Like, how do you not know the sit­u­a­tion? I’m be­hind you with newer tires, you’re not get­ting a good restart, all you need to do is run fifth. Know the sit­u­a­tion.”

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