November 18, 2014

Championship Earned, Respect Deserved

How Kevin Harvick distinguished himself from the competition and became the champion


Kevin Harvick earned the right to hold up the 2014 Sprint
Cup Trophy with his run to the championship. (Getty)
Passionate fans.

They're the ones that drive this great sport of auto racing.  They're there at Daytona when the season starts in February, and they're there all the way through the checkered flag at Homestead.  Each week, they fill the stands and camping lots, mob the souvenir haulers, and go through whatever means necessary to try and get close to their favorite drivers.  The NASCAR fan base is unlike any other in sports.

That passion is fueled by the nature of the competition.  Unlike if you attend a New England Patriots game, where you're either a fan of the Patriots or you're not, in NASCAR, there are 43 cars on the track.  That means at any given time, there are fans of 43 different "teams" (if you will) at the same venue or on the same social media site.

This results in more imminent debates than in other sports.  For every Kyle Busch supporter, there's a Brad Keselowski fan.  For every member of Junior Nation, there's someone to remind them about the lack of a championship.  For every fan pulling for Jeff Gordon to win a long-awaited fifth championship, there's an equally passionate fan hoping for Jimmie Johnson to keep rolling with a seventh.

That's our sport.  That uniqueness in fans is what defines it from any other in the world.

But, that passion can get ugly when a fan's love for their own driver turns into a hatred for the others. Instead of cheering on their own driver, some openly hope that others get intentionally wrecked. Instead of being disappointed by a poor performance, some call other drivers and crew chiefs cheaters.  (It never seems to matter who; if it's not that person's driver, the rest cheated.)  Instead of tipping their cap to a good performance, they boo a champion and try to discredit the accomplishment.

November 12, 2014

2014 Championship Race Odds

Ford Eco-Boost 400 Championship Contender Preview


Joey Logano has been among the most consistent
drivers this season, and overcame a pit penalty
 at Phoenix to qualify for the Championship Race. (Getty)
This is it.  There's one race left and four contenders to determine the 2014 NASCAR Champion.

It's the same four that we've predicted all along, right?  A stable of Hendrick Motorsports drivers and the wins leader, Brad Keselowski ... wait, what's that?  None of those guys made it?!

The Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be unlike anything NASCAR fans have seen before.  None of the four contenders (Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick) have ever won a championship, so it's guaranteed a first-time champion will be crowned.

The math for earning that title is simple: beat the other three drivers.  That's it.

November 5, 2014

CHASE FANTASY: Phoenix

Eliminator: Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 Fantasy Preview


Kevin Harvick picked up his first win as a member of
Stewart-Haas Racing this past March at Phoenix. (Getty)
It took elimination from the Chase for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson to get the memo that it's all about winning.  Neither driver is eligible for the title, but both have stolen victories from those that could have punched their ticket to the Championship Race.

At Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr. held off teammate Jeff Gordon, and Johnson edged both Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick at Texas on Sunday.  All three of those that missed victory will be fighting for their championship hopes this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.  Gordon is one point into the final four, while Keselowski is five points back and Harvick six.

All Eliminator Eight drivers have a great chance to race their way into the Chase considering Harvick is currently in last, but nothing's for sure.  The only way to guarantee the opportunity to race for the title at Homestead would be to win at Phoenix and let the other seven contenders hope the chips fall in their favor.

Here's a fantasy look at which of the remaining eight drivers have the best and worst chances to perform well on Sunday:

Green Flag - Kevin Harvick

October 29, 2014

CHASE FANTASY: Texas

Eliminator: AAA Texas 500


Matt Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff have made the most
of the season, even as victory lane has eluded them. (NHMS/HHP)
It looks like someone was a little bitter to have not received his invitation to the Eliminator Round of the NASCAR Chase.  After struggling in the Contender Round, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was eliminated from championship contention, but that didn't stop him from crashing the party with a win at Martinsville Speedway this past Sunday.

His win opens the door for at least two drivers to qualify for the Championship Round on points alone.  That's a pretty risky proposition, however.  Those still in the Chase have been among the most consistent drivers this season, so one slip could easily knock a driver out of the points race.

Wins are still key.

Jeff Gordon just missed out on a clinching win with his second-place finish at Martinsville; that could come back to haunt him if something goes wrong in the next two races.  Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick suffered damage and finished 31st and 33rd, respectively, at Martinsville.  Both of them won in the last round and might need to do the same to advance.

Here's a fantasy NASCAR perspective on how some of the Chase contenders are expected to finish this week:

October 24, 2014

Magic Mile Power Rankings: Talladega



Next Up: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500
at Martinsville Speedway



Brad Keselowski did it the hard way, winning Sunday's race
at Talladega Superspeedway to advance into this weekend's
Eliminator Round, starting at Martinsville Speedway.
Two rounds down, one round and one championship race to go.
The Chase field has been dwindled down to eight drivers, with Brad Keselowski getting in by the skin of his teeth thanks to a hard-fought win at Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday.
While six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne are now on the outside looking in, they're still very much alive in the Magic Mile Power Rankings. But did any of them make this week's list? And how far did Bad Brad climb after picking up his sixth win of the season? Was it enough to vault him into the top spot, which has been occupied by teammate Joey Logano for several weeks now?

MMPR format:
Win - 10 points
Top-5 - 5 points
Top-10 - 3 points
Most Laps Led - 2 points
Pole - 1 point
21-30 - Minus-1
31-40 - Minus-3
41-43 - Minus-5
*The most recent five races are counted.
**Names in yellow indicate championship eligible drivers
(Last five weeks' point total in parentheses)

Here's a look at the MMPR (hashtag edition) heading into the first race in the Eliminator Round at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday: