Reevaluating NASCARs Chase before third round begins in Martinsville

With just four races remaining in NASCARs Chase for the Sprint Cup, R. Cory Smith provides his take on the final two rounds.

Randy Sartin—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano celebrates his victory by performing a burn out after winning the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega turned the entire Chase Grid on its head. Now the pressure is on at the Paperclip as only eight drivers remain in NASCAR’s playoffs heading to Martinsville.Among the drivers who were eliminated last Sunday at Talladega were Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. During the regular season, Keselowski tied with defending champion Kyle Busch for the most wins at four. Once the Chase got underway, Truex won two of the first three races to top the standings heading into the second round.Now both drivers are out of the running due to poor luck at the restrictor-plate track. Truex suffered a blown engine early in the race after claiming the pole while Kes suffered the same fate after leading 90 of 188 laps. Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were also eliminated, but neither were truly considered title contenders.Given the recent changes in the Chase, here’s an updated look at who will make the final round at Homestead-Miami and who will be crowned the final “Sprint Cup” champion.Championship FourHeading into Martinsville, both Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth have remained two of the strongest drivers in the Chase. While they were caught up in two accidents that ultimately cost them a chance at a title last year at Kansas and Martinsville, they seem to be on good terms still in the third round.That bodes well for Team Penske, who just lost Keselowski at Talladega despite a blistering season. Luckily, Logano led 207 laps at Martinsville last season before he was taken out by Kenseth in the final laps. Expect both to advance, with Logano winning a second straight this weekend.As for the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, Kyle Busch has remained remarkably consistent during the Chase as he did must of the season. Don’t count him out after posting four wins this season, but he and the rest of his JGR drivers outside of Kenseth will be casualties of a tough Chase system.So who gets in ahead of the rest of the Gibbs drivers? My picks are Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson solely due to wins. After Logano takes the checkered flag at the Paperclip, Johnson will win at Texas for the sixth time in the last nine races while Harvick will win at Phoenix for the seventh time in the last nine events.Predictions: Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt KensethChampion: Kevin HarvickThroughout the Chase, Harvick has lived up to his nickname as “The Closer” with a win in each round. He’s also been a bully to other drivers, running up at the front in three of the six races with nearly 100 laps led to this point.What makes him my favorite at this point has not only been his performance in the Chase, but also his recent record in the upcoming races. It’s no secret that Happy Harvick has dominated Phoenix, but he has also finished first and second in the last two years at Homestead, respectively, while leading 100 combined laps.In the last season with Chevrolet before making the switch to Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing will go out with a third title in the final six years with the manufacturer. With his experience and pedigree when it comes to crunch time, Harvick will deliver that championship with two straight victories to close out the 2016 season.