A statistical look ahead to the opening race of the Eliminator Round RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Below is a look at the eight Eliminators – and beyond – at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia going into the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 on October 26. MARTINSVILLE-SPECIFIC STATISTICS 1 - Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 106.6 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 15 top fives, 20 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.5 · Led 20 races for 916 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Two top fives, three top 10s · Average finish of 14.8 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 16.0, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 82.3, 14th-best 2 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 109.7 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; eight poles · Average finish of 13.4 · Led 24 races for 1,817 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One win, three top fives, 12 top 10s · Average finish of 15.8 in 26 races · Average Running Position of 13.7, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 93.2, eighth-best · 956 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.163 mph, eighth-fastest · 6,348 Laps in the Top 15 (66.6%), sixth-most · 578 Quality Passes, sixth-most 3 - Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 85.1 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 13.3 · Led 7 races for 41 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, 11 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 15.5 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 15.1, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 86.9, 10th-best · 1,008 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · 5,419 Laps in the Top 15 (56.8%), ninth-most · 528 Quality Passes, ninth-most 4 - Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.0 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 15.1 · Led 14 races for 218 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Four wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 8.8 in 17 races · Average Running Position of 9.0, third-best · Driver Rating of 109.6, third-best · 580 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.467 mph, third-fastest · 7,007 Laps in the Top 15 (82.1%), fourth-most · 609 Quality Passes, fifth-most 5 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 91.6 2014 Rundown · 12 top fives, 19 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.6 · Led 18 races for 468 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Four top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 15.0 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 16.0, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 84.2, 12th-best · 173 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · 1,023 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.042 mph, 11th-fastest 6 - Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford Ecoboost Fusion Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 81.7 2014 Rundown · Two wins, seven top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 14.5 · Led 11 races for 135 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One top five, five top 10s · Average finish of 15.7 in 20 races · Average Running Position of 15.9, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 81.4, 15th-best · 1,036 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 5,181 Laps in the Top 15 (54.3%), 11th-most · 555 Quality Passes, eighth-most 7 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 108.4 2014 Rundown · Four wins, 12 top fives, 20 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.3 · Led 23 races for 743 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Eight wins, 27 top fives, 34 top 10s; seven poles · Average finish of 7.0 in 43 races · Average Running Position of 6.7, second-best · Driver Rating of 119.0, second-best · Series-high 1,034 Fastest Laps Run · 933 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.684 mph, second-fastest · 8,375 Laps in the Top 15 (87.8%), second-most · Series-high 691 Quality Passes 8 - Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 104.3 2014 Rundown · Six wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s; five poles · Average finish of 12.9 · Led 26 races for 1,518 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One top five, five top 10s · Average finish of 13.4 in nine races · Average Running Position of 16.2, 14th-best · Driver Rating of 84.5, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.102 mph, 10th-fastest 9 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Halloween Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.0 2014 Rundown · One win, eight top fives, 14 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 17.0 · Led 15 races for 453 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Eight top fives, nine top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.9 in 19 races · Average Running Position of 13.3, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 96.1, sixth-best · 409 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 952 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.342 mph, fifth-fastest · 6,587 Laps in the Top 15 (69.1%), fifth-most · 616 Quality Passes, fourth-most 10 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 99.2 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.7 · Led 16 races for 1,119 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Eight wins, 18 top fives, 22 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 5.2 in 25 races · Series-best Average Running Position of 5.6 · Series-best Driver Rating of 124.8 · 1,010 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 91.737 mph · Series-high 8,833 Laps in the Top 15 (92.6%) · 680 Quality Passes, second-most 11 - Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.1 2014 Rundown · One win, three top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 16.3 · Led 12 races for 218 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Three top fives, four top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 20.2 in 21 races · Average Running Position of 20.4, 20th-best · Driver Rating of 77.7, 19th-best · 255 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most 12 - AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Clorox Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.2 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.2 · Led 5 races for 68 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One top five, two top 10s · Average finish of 20.6 in 12 races · Average Running Position of 21.3, 23rd-best · Driver Rating of 70.8, 22nd-best 13 - Dale Earnhardt Jr . (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 96.6 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s · Average finish of 12.8 · Led 15 races for 300 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · 11 top fives, 16 top 10s · Average finish of 12.8 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 10.8, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 99.9, fourth-best · 471 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Series-high 1,111 Green Flag Passes · Average Green Flag Speed of 91.374 mph, fourth-fastest · 7,393 Laps in the Top 15 (77.5%), third-most · 668 Quality Passes, third-most 14 - Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 78.6 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 16.1 · Led 7 races for 110 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Five top 10s · Average finish of 20.1 in 23 races · Average Running Position of 20.6, 21st-best · Driver Rating of 70.5, 23rd-best · 1,068 Green Flag Passes, second-most 15 - Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 86.5 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 19.4 · Led 12 races for 183 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · Two wins, three top fives, five top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 20.8 in 28 races · Average Running Position of 18.2, 18th-best · Driver Rating of 79.0, 18th-best · 987 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most 16 - Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 72.4 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 21.6 · Led 5 races for 23 laps Martinsville Speedway Outlook: · One top five, three top 10s · Average finish of 24.0 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 23.9, 30th-best · Driver Rating of 64.8, 27th-best The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2014 Eliminator Eight at Martinsville Speedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Joey Logano 11 0 0 2 3 0 14.8 82.3 2 Kevin Harvick 26 0 1 3 12 1 15.8 93.2 3 Ryan Newman 25 3 1 7 11 2 15.5 86.9 4 Denny Hamlin 17 3 4 9 13 1 8.8 109.6 5 Matt Kenseth 29 0 0 4 10 2 15.0 84.2 6 Carl Edwards 20 0 0 1 5 0 15.7 81.4 7 Jeff Gordon 43 7 8 27 34 0 7.0 119.0 8 Brad Keselowski 9 0 0 1 5 0 13.4 84.5 * – Based on last 19 races at Martinsville Speedway (2005 – 2014). Martinsville Speedway: History · Opened in September 1947 by H. Clay Earles , Martinsville, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States. · The first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville was on July 4, 1948. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was Sept. 25, 1949. · The track was paved in 1955. · The first 500-lap event at Martinsville was in 1956. · Concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976. Notebook · There have been 131 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway , one in the inaugural year and two races per year since 1950. · 599 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville; 376 in more than one. · NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty has the all-time most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville with 67 starts; Jeff Gordon has the most among active drivers with 43. · Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Martinsville Speedway in 1949. · 58 drivers have Coors Light poles at Martinsville, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip with eight; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven. · 12 drivers have won two or more consecutive Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway . Four of the 12 have won three consecutive poles at Martinsville: Glen Wood (Fall of 1959 and 1960 sweep); Darrell Waltrip (1979 sweep and spring 1980); Mark Martin (fall of 1990 and 1991 sweep); Jeff Gordon (2003 sweep and spring 2004). · Youngest Martinsville pole winner: Ricky Rudd (4/26/1981 – 24 years, 7 months, 14 days). · Oldest Martinsville pole winner: Morgan Shepherd (4/26/1987 – 45 years, 6 months, 14 days). · 47 different drivers have won at Martinsville Speedway , led by Richard Petty with 15; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead the series among active drivers with eight wins each. · 24 drivers have multiple wins at Martinsville Speedway only five active drivers have multiple wins: Jimmie Johnson (eight), Jeff Gordon (eight), Denny Hamlin (four), Tony Stewart (three) and Kurt Busch (two). · Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 21. · 21 of 131 races (16.0%) at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the Coors Light pole; seven of those 21 wins came from active drivers: Tony Stewart (2000), Jeff Gordon (2003 twice), Jimmie Johnson (2008, 2012, spring 2013) and Denny Hamlin (2010). · The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position. · 36 of the 131 (27.4 %) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the front row: 21 from the pole and 15 from second-place. · 95 of the 131 (72.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Six of the 131 (4.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 36th, by Kurt Busch in the fall of 2002. · Youngest Martinsville winner: Richard Petty (04/10/1960 – 22 years, 9 months, 8 days). · Oldest Martinsville winner: Harry Gant (09/22/1991 – 51 years, 8 months, 12 days). · NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway with seven; Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead all active drivers with four each. · Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 30; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 27, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 18. · Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 37; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 34, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 22. · Jeff Gordon leads active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Martinsville Speedway with a 7.186. Ryan Newman (9.680) and Denny Hamlin (9.765) are the only two other active drivers with an average starting position at Martinsville inside the top-10. · Three active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top-10 at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (5.200), Jeff Gordon (6.953) and Denny Hamlin (8.765). · There have been five NSCS green-white-checkered finishes at Martinsville Speedway : fall 2007 (500/506), fall 2008 (500/504), fall 2009 (500/501), spring 2010 (500/508), and spring 2012 (500/515). · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions eight times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway ; the most recent was the fall race of 2011. · Jeff Gordon has participated in the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway without a DNF (43). · Tony Stewart (4/18/1999) and Scott Riggs (4/10/2005) won their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway . · Mike Bliss (09/27/1998), Travis Kvapil (10/24/2004), Michael McDowell (3/30/2008) and Scott Speed (10/19/2008) made their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career starts at Martinsville Speedway . · 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted consecutive wins at Martinsville Speedway . Fred Lorenzen won four NSCS races straight ( the most) from the fall of 1963 through the spring of 1965. · All eight active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Martinsville Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Tony Stewart won at Martinsville with the fewest previous appearances (three). · Ryan Newman competed at Martinsville Speedway 20 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the eight active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Four drivers have made eight or more attempts before their first win at Martinsville Speedway : Kevin Harvick (19) and Ryan Newman (20). · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway is the 4/1/2007 race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.065 second. · Danica Patrick is the only female driver to compete at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Danica Patrick 10 32 3/30/2014 Danica Patrick 41 17 10/27/2013 Danica Patrick 32 12 4/7/2013 · Seven car numbers have produced five or more Martinsville Speedway NSCS wins: Car Number – Drivers – (Years) o No. 43 – Richard Petty (1960, ’62, ’63, ’67 sweep, ’68, ’69 sweep, ’70, ’71, ’72 sweep, ’73, ’75 and ’79); John Andretti (1999) o No. 11 – Cale Yarborough (1974, ’76, ’77 sweep, ‘78); Darrell Waltrip (1981, ’82, ’83, ’84); Geoff Bodine (1990 sweep); Denny Hamlin (2008, ’09, ’10 sweep) o No . 28 – Fred Lorenzen (1961, ’63, ’64 sweep, ‘65 and ‘66); Buddy Baker (1979); Ernie Irvan (1993). o No . 2 – Dale Earnhardt (1980); Rusty Wallace (1993, ‘94 sweep, ’95, ’96 and ‘04) o No . 48 – Jimmie Johnson (2004, ’06, ’07 sweep, ’08, ’09, ’12, ‘13) o No . 24 – Jeff Gordon (1996, ’97, ’99, ’03 sweep and ’05 sweep, fall 2013) o No . 3 – Ricky Rudd (1983); Dale Earnhardt (1985, ’87, ’88, ’91, ’95) NASCAR in Virginia · There have been 285 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among nine tracks in Virginia. Track Name City NSCS Martinsville Speedway Martinsville 131 Richmond International Raceway Richmond 117 South Boston Speedway South Boston 10 Langley Field Speedway Hampton 9 Old Dominion Speedway Manassas 7 Southside Speedway Richmond 4 Starkey Speedway Roanoke 4 Norfolk Speedway Norfolk 2 Princess Anne Speedway Norfolk 1 · 172 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Virginia. · 19 drivers from Virginia have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series. 11 of the 19 Virginia native NASCAR winners have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS Joe Weatherly 25 0 0 Denny Hamlin 24 11 2 Ricky Rudd 23 1 0 Jeff Burton 21 27 0 Curtis Turner 17 0 0 Ward Burton 5 4 0 Glen Wood 4 0 0 Elliott Sadler 3 10 1 Emanuel Zervakis 2 0 0 Lennie Pond 1 0 0 Wendell Scott 1 0 0 Tommy Ellis 0 22 0 Jimmy Hensley 0 9 2 Rick Mast 0 9 0 Hermie Sadler 0 2 0 Elton Sawyer 0 2 0 Stacy Compton 0 0 2 Jon Wood 0 0 2 Jeb Burton 0 0 1 MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
This episode of The Drive for Superior Performance focuses on how NASCAR and Goodyear work together to design and develop the ultimate tire for the sport.
See how the two drivers stack up statistically RELATED: Video of the confrontation " Keselowski addresses actions The graphic below offers a by - the - numbers comparison of Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
See how the eight Chase drivers have fared at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Using average-finish stats, here are your Contender Round favorites MORE: 12 drivers advance to Contender Round " Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota When handicapping the 12 drivers in the Contender Round of the Chase Grid, it helps to put one foot in the past and one foot in the present to hopefully make a confident step toward the future. So what we've done is capture the past and present in the form of average-finish stats in order to predict the eight drivers who will advance to the Eliminator Round in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The three statistical categories we examined are: average finish for the 2014 season, average finish in the past five races and average finish at the Contender Round tracks. These categories were chosen because they will help tell us who has been the most consistent driver this season, as well as who's hot right now and who has the best chance to perform well in the next three races. By assigning a point value to how each driver ranked in each category (example: Jeff Gordon got 12 points for being the best driver in average finish for this season, while Kyle Busch got one point for being the worst), there is a total at the end and four drivers will be eliminated. Sounds fun, right? Let's get to it: Average finish this season Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Jeff Gordon 10.0 12 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11.0 11 3 Joey Logano 12.2 10 4 Brad Keselowski 12.4 9 5 Jimmie Johnson 13.4 8 6 Matt Kenseth 13.8 7 7 Kevin Harvick 14.0 5.5 8 Ryan Newman 14.0 5.5 9 Carl Edwards 14.8 4 10 Denny Hamlin 15.5 3 11 Kasey Kahne 16.5 2 12 Kyle Busch 17.1 1 Inside the Numbers : It shouldn't surprise any NASCAR fans to see the names at the top of this list. Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Logano, Keselowski and Johnson have all had great seasons, combining for 19 victories with each driver getting at least three wins. Keselowski leads with five wins, including at Richmond and in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Logano and Gordon followed Keselowski by winning the Chase races at New Hampshire and Dover , respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the season strong with a victory in the Daytona 500 and followed that up by sweeping the races at Pocono, but as we'll see in the next statistical category (last five races), he hasn't been the hottest driver among the Chase participants entering the Contender Round. Average finish last five races Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Joey Logano 5.8 12 2 Jimmie Johnson 6.4 11 3 Kevin Harvick 9.0 10 4 Jeff Gordon 9.6 9 5 Brad Keselowski 10.0 8 6 Kyle Busch 11.0 7 7 Ryan Newman 11.4 6 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12.0 5 9 Kasey Kahne 14.8 4 10 Carl Edwards 15.0 3 11 Matt Kenseth 15.8 1.5 12 Denny Hamlin 15.8 1.5 Inside the Numbers : Junior lands in the middle of the pack with an average finish of 12th in the last five races. That gives him five points in our formula, because he was better than only Denny Hamlin , Matt Kenseth , Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne . Dale Jr.'s 17th-place finish at Dover followed an 11th at Atlanta, a 12th at Richmond , an 11th at Chicago and a ninth at New Hampshire. Not exactly bad by any means, but he isn't tearing it up, either. Keselowski took home eight points in this category, which might be difficult to believe considering he won two races in this span. But a 39th-place finish at Atlanta to begin the five-race stretch skewed his numbers . If you discount that race, Keselowski's average finish over the past four races is an incredible 2.75 -- so he might be a little hotter than these numbers suggest. Average finish at Contender Round tracks Rank Driver Avg. Finish Points 1 Jimmie Johnson 12.00 12 2 Jeff Gordon 14.20 11 3 Brad Keselowski 14.23 10 4 Carl Edwards 14.33 9 5 Kevin Harvick 14.57 8 6 Matt Kenseth 15.37 7 7 Kasey Kahne 15.40 6 8 Denny Hamlin 15.97 5 9 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 16.53 4 10 Joey Logano 17.63 3 11 Ryan Newman 19.73 2 12 Kyle Busch 19.90 1 Inside the Numbers : Johnson has by far the best average finish at the Contender Round tracks, more than two positions better than his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon. So for those who don't want to see "Six-Time" become "Seven-Time," avert your eyes from this chart -- it's a sign that the No. 48 team could get stronger as the Chase moves on. Kyle Busch has a history of volatility at these tracks, so you might want to choose someone else in the Chase Grid Battle Game presented by Toyota. Fans might be familiar with Busch's struggles at Kansas (average finish of 22.7), which is where his Chase imploded last season, but he's almost equally as bad at Talladega (21.4). Busch said he and crew chief Dave Rogers tried a different car in the spring race at Kansas , leading to a top-15. The Final Outcome Rank Driver Points 1 Jeff Gordon 32 2 Jimmie Johnson 31 3 Brad Keselowski 27 4 Joey Logano 25 5 Kevin Harvick 23.5 6 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 20 7 Carl Edwards 16 8 Matt Kenseth 15.5 9 Ryan Newman 13.5 10 Kasey Kahne 12 11 Denny Hamlin 9.5 12 Kyle Busch 9 There you have it, the eight drivers highlighted in the chart above are the ones with the best chance to move on to the Eliminator Round. Of course, we'll have to see how it actually plays out, but since this was fun, let's try it again when we get to the final eight to see who has the best shot of making the Championship Four. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Matt Kenseth moved from the back row all the way to a second-place finish at Talladega, making him the Mobil 1 Driver of the Race.
It was make-or-break time for drivers looking to make the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. These are the best in-car audio highlights from Talladega Superspeedway.
Alan Cavanna brings you Up To Speed following Eliminator Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
At 35, in the prime of his career, Steve Letarte is leaving. Why? " The Tuesday after Homestead in 2010, we had our competition meeting and Mr. H was there after, and we thought that was a little odd," Letarte said. "He gave me the , 'Hey, Stevie, I need to see you for a minute.' And I literally stood up (from) the table and had to walk the length of the room. And as I walked down the room, I mentally went through what teams are hiring? Who can I call? Because in my mind, yeah, why wouldn't they let me go? Why wouldn't they make a change?" Four years removed from that winless season as crew chief for Jeff Gordon , Letarte is not only employed at Hendrick Motorsports, he's atop the pit box for the sport's biggest star. But his days are numbered. Even though he's nearly at the peak of his professional career, Letarte, 35, will leave the only family he's ever known in NASCAR at season's end. Letarte's decision to join NBC Sports as an analyst next year after two decades with Hendrick was made with his real family in mind. For the betterment of one, he chose to leave the other -- and a large amount of money on the table -- in the process. "Yeah, without a doubt," Letarte said of the discrepancy in salaries. "Crew chiefing is like being a head coach. You're paid for your time and it takes a lot of time. So my equation would be that I'm paid for my time in television but it should take a whole lot less time. I don’t think you can put a dollar sign, I know you can't put a dollar sign on my little boy will only turn 11 once, he’ll only have his first go-kart race once. My little girl only has her first communion once -- and I missed that. "So all of those 'onces’ are lining up and I've missed 10 years' worth since I've had children, not to mention the things that I missed with my wife before that." Some vestiges of Letarte's unheralded beginning remain at the Hendrick Motorsports campus. These are found mostly in museum displays because HMS was a different place in May of 1995. Hendrick had not yet won any of its 11 Cup championships when 16-year-old Letarte arrived after being hired by neighbor Ray Evernham to handle odd jobs around the No. 24 team shop. His father, Don, who'd moved the family from Maine to North Carolina the year before, helped build the cars that would carry Gordon to his first title. Letarte might have been the proverbial younger brother in the No. 24 shop, but Evernham never worried about him. "Some of the guys -- and this was a group of young guys -- were very competitive (with) the egos and the girls and whatnot," Evernham said. "For all the guys that were 21, 22 and 23, Steven would have no problem stealing the girls at 16 or 17. Whatever they had, Steven had the talk. He had the best sales pitch." Despite his age, he impressed Evernham and his boss Michael Landis with his diligence in performing the smallest of tasks: tracking down parts, servicing vehicles or cleaning the shop. Landis, another one of Evernham's transplanted Northeasterners, now reports to Letarte in his current role. "We chose hardworking, good work ethic and loyalty over experienced know-it-alls, maybe," Landis said. "You remember the sport back then. People would jump around for $25 and they'd promise you A-Z and they can do it all. Then six months into it you realize you hired the wrong guy. ... "Back then he worked for me and today I work for him but it's been a smooth transition. Steve is easygoing and he's easy to get along with and he's very fair. When he needs to hold you accountable, he does but he does it in a manner of almost putting his arm around you. He doesn't manage by intimidation." HMS Vice President of Competition Ken Howes has been with the company even longer than Letarte -- "I've been here so long that one day maybe they'll tell me to go away" -- and he's watched him grow through the years. "It's probably not too different from raising a child in a sense," he said. "You realize that somebody's a smart, young worker, you help them along the way and do what you can when opportunities come up. For awhile, perhaps you consider yourself a mentor and then at some point, they mature and learn and make mistakes and you help them out and then they take another level where they don't need you anymore." The arc of Letarte's career dovetails with the driver who has made the No. 24 one of the most revered numbers in the sport's history. While Gordon captured his four Cup titles between 1995-2001, Letarte was enjoying his own meteoric rise. Shop boy. Full-time mechanic. Tire specialist. Rear tire carrier. During the 2002 season, he was elevated to the role of car chief and later, Gordon handpicked him to be crew chief late in 2005. "Steve and I go so far back because of him growing up at Hendrick and coming up through the ranks so far," said Gordon, also reflecting on his first 20 years in the sport. "Never have I seen anybody that started at the level that he did at such a young age and grow into being a top crew chief. I'm very proud of him." With the hum of Tuesday morning activity buzzing outside his office window, Letarte recalled the end of their working relationship on that fateful Tuesday after the 2010 season finale at Homestead. Certain that he was going to be fired, Letarte listened to Hendrick with a sense of relief and disbelief when the boss asked him to be Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s crew chief. "He said, 'This is the challenge, this is what I need your help with' -- he didn't tell me what I was doing, he asked me to do something for him," Letarte said. "That day is when I learned that I'm gonna be given maybe not a second chance but that he believed in me. I think when I took Dale on as driver and he took me on as a crew chief, we kind of had a lot to prove together." Earnhardt's sagging fortunes after the much-ballyhooed move to Hendrick were weighing heavily on him. He was coming off consecutive winless seasons with points finishes in the 20s and was, frankly, miserable. He decided to place his trust in Letarte. "I felt like, for me, that he was my last resort," Earnhardt said. "I hate to say that because people take that and run with it. But for me personally, I didn't know whether I could handle the disappointment if he didn't work, if this didn't work, I didn't know how I would face the reality of more failure with a new crew chief." Letarte, for his part, is loath to take credit for revitalizing Earnhardt's career. "I'm glad I was able to be a part of when he revitalized his career because I don't think I did it. I think he did it. I can make the argument that he revitalized mine," he said. Using his persuasive blend of leadership, cajoling and cheerleading when necessary, the gamble paid off. Earnhardt described it as "linear" success with the No. 88 team making progress in each season under Letarte's guidance. With three wins already this year, and a championship-caliber performance for much of it, Earnhardt and Letarte have a legitimate chance of winning their first Cup titles together. "I don't go by the adage that it had to be Steve or that only Steve could have done it but I think that I damn sure wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I have," Earnhardt said. "He made me not only a better driver but I've got to where I'm having the best time I've had driving cars and loving it. I had really gotten a bad taste in my mouth with what I was doing and how racing was going for me and (what) professional life was like. I wasn't having any fun and it had become a hard place to go to. "He helped me become just an easier guy to be around. I had become hard to handle or hard to deal with and he helped me see those things and correct them as best as I could." Letarte and Earnhardt resemble college roommates that meet freshman year and become close in a relatively short period of time. They've worked and also vacationed together, and as much as Earnhardt will miss the crew chief Letarte has become, he'll miss having his friend of four years around on a regular basis. "He's probably one of my favorite people to bounce off personal questions and advice with things just happening in my life," Earnhardt said. "He's got a real good head on his shoulders, a great family man, and so he's the kind of person I can go to and say, 'Hey man, this is what happened to me this week, what should I do?' or 'Am I making the right choice here?' or 'Did I say the right thing, did I handle this correctly?' He likes that role and he helps me out, just as a friend, he's the kind of guy I can lean on. I'll be able to reach out and find him but he won't be so easily available once he changes his job and I'm gonna miss that." Earnhardt noted that their bond pales compared with many of his teammates on the No. 88 crew including car chief Jason Burdett. "All the people he's worked with for the first five, 10 or 15 years, these are guys that he's got strong relationships with," Earnhardt said. "I believe it's going to be super emotional for Burdett and all the guys because Steve brought all these guys together. I think it'll definitely be emotional for me and him but I think the whole team is gonna hurt and (we'll) run into that head on as soon as we cross the finish line at Homestead. It's gonna be pretty tough." The time of Letarte's exit is drawing near. The business at hand helps push that reality mostly to the back of his mind for now. It is impossible to keep those thoughts from pervading on occasion, however. "There's two fears," he said. "There's the fear of losing the camaraderie of the guys and the second family that you've always had. This group of guys that I've been able to work with for all these years, when you spend as much time together as we do, they do kind of become your second family. We've grown up together as a group. When you spend that much time with anyone, I think you become somewhat attached to them, and it's going to be difficult not to see them every day. " The second big fear is the competition side. All I think about every hour of every day when I'm at work is to win." Evernham knows from experience that it will be difficult to say goodbye on many levels. When he left Hendrick to start his own Dodge-backed team in the late 1990s, Letarte's response in particular left a lasting impression on him. "I remember the day I said I was leaving, how upset Steven was and that still touches me that it meant that much to him," Evernham said. "I look at those guys as part of my family. He knows what he has to do is the right thing for him and for his family but it's still very hard to leave. When I left that day, it was very, very hard." Evernham, who now assists Hendrick Motorsports management in a consultant role, also took his turn in the television booth with ESPN. He can lend some advice to his former protégé on that transition, as well. "Just be himself and just be aware that no matter how good you are at TV, you're never going to get the accolades that you do as Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s crew chief or Jeff Gordon 's crew chief," Evernham said. "It is a different life. It's not the same. You're not going to get that same feeling at a race that you do now. When you're in that race, and that adrenaline's flowing and you're part of that and all of a sudden you're not, it's a different feeling." The only way Letarte will know the feeling is to experience it -- "Those four hours on Sunday, I don't have any idea what it's gonna be like not to be a part of that yet" — because his entire adult life up to this point has been focused on performing in that special window of time. Leaving that behind, and in the prime of his professional career, Letarte insisted there will be no lingering doubts in the wake of his decision. "I don't have any worries about what-ifs," he said. "If I passed away tomorrow and 'great crew chief' made the headstone then I was pretty disappointing that's the big enough thing I've done in life to make the headstone. I want to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good role model. There are a lot of things that I want to do other than try to race as a crew chief." That includes his upcoming TV gig, too. "I'm excited for television. I like to talk, I like to communicate with people and I love the sport," Letarte said. SUBSCRIBE NOW!