NASCAR Elimination Scenarios: How Each Driver Wins the Championship 4

Through Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

The seven drivers battling for the three remaining spots to contend for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship can take different approaches to earn those spots.

But the consensus is that they all have to do one thing this weekend at Martinsville Speedway: They have to qualify well on Saturday.

This season’s 400-lap race at the 0.526-mile Paperclip Oval had just five lead changes throughout the race. Drivers will complete 500 laps (at least) on Sunday, and NASCAR has changed some of the gearboxes since April, but overtaking is expected to be expensive.

With “Championship 4” spots on the line, there could be more aggressiveness and more attempts to get forward. But a rider who doesn’t qualify well is unlikely to earn stage points and places even more emphasis on winning the race.

“I just have to qualify well,” said Denny Hamlin, who is the first driver to start the race below the cutline. “We have to be quick in restarts and we will give ourselves a chance.”

Denny Hamlin on his day at Homestead

Denny Hamlin on his day at Homestead

Denny Hamlin said his lack of short-distance speed made the difference at Homestead last Sunday.

Thanks to his victory at the opening round of the semifinals (NASCAR’s “Round of 8”) in Las Vegas, Joey Logano is the only driver who knows he will be fighting for the championship on November 6th in Phoenix.

The other seven championship-eligible drivers can either move up with a win or be among the top two (or three if neither of them wins) with points.

“The first race was extremely tough,” said Chase Briscoe, whose only reasonable hope of making the playoffs is victory.

“If you can get and hold the position on the track then I think it will be easy to control the race.”

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Here’s the outlook for the seven riders heading to Martinsville:

be great

Ross Chastain (+19 on the fifth): Chastain can secure his first place in Championship 4 with 41 points, no matter what other drivers do. His second places in the first two races of the round also give the Trackhouse Racing driver the tiebreak against each of the other drivers. He finished fifth in Martinsville and that was a good result, but he started 27th so he only got 32 points that day. If he starts 27th this time it will be difficult to get stage points and he could end up in the bubble.

Ross Chastain on trying to catch Kyle Larson

Ross Chastain on trying to catch Kyle Larson

Ross Chastain said he was just a little too tight to be able to make the moves necessary to catch Kyle Larson at Homestead.

Chase Eliot (+11 on the fifth): Elliott can secure his third straight Championship 4 finish with 50 points no matter what other drivers do. That would require at least 15 stage points and if he can do that he’ll probably be in a position to fight for the win. The Hendrick rider was on pole, leading 195 laps and sweeping the stages on his way to a 10th place (47 points cumulative) at Martinsville in April. The 2020 cup winner at least knows how to deal with pressure situations.

Chase Elliott on his day at Homestead

Chase Elliott on his day at Homestead

Chase Elliott said he played defense all day at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

be a winner

William Byron (+5 on fifth): Byron is above the cutline, but given the potential for Hamlin or Ryan Blaney to win, Byron needs to go into this race with the attitude that he has to fight for the win. Yes, the Hendrick driver was able to catch and pass Elliott and Chastain on points, but both have shown strength at Martinsville. Byron won at Martinsville in April – leading 212 laps – so he’s confident he can repeat it. He is aiming for his first trip to the championship round.

Denny Hamlin (-5 behind fourth): Hamlin has five career wins in Martinsville but probably doesn’t come out with much confidence. His team lacked speed in recent playoff races and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished 28th at Martinsville in April. Still, Hamlin has made the championship round in each of the last three years, and you never count anyone with 48 career cup wins.

Ryan Blaney (-18 behind fourth): Blaney left the first two races of this round frustrated as mistakes put him in a hole so he may be able to fight for point after points if he runs well in both stages, but he probably has little chance of progressing without one to win. He was good at Martinsville in April, finishing fourth, but doing that probably won’t be good enough for the Team Penske rider, who is winless this year and is looking to get eliminated in the semifinals for the fourth time in six years.

Ryan Blaney frustrated with his mistake

Ryan Blaney frustrated with his mistake

Ryan Blaney was frustrated with himself for making a mistake exiting the pit lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Christopher Bell (-33 behind fourth): He’s done it before – Bell won on the Charlotte Road Course a few weeks ago to advance to this round – so he can do it again. But will he? He was 20th at Martinsville in April. As is the case with Bell’s JGR teammate Hamlin, this may not be his year, which is odd to write considering he looked like a favorite after the first round.

Chase Briscoe (-44 behind fourth): Briscoe failed at Homestead and put his back against the wall to win at Martinsville. He was ninth there in April so he needs to improve solidly. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver won in Phoenix earlier this year. So if he can pull off a miracle in Martinsville, he’d be one of the favorites for the title.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsport, including the past 30 Daytona 500, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene Magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpock breedand sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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