Can-Am 500k

The rubber match of round three this week comes on one of NASCAR’s great venues. The one-mile flat tracks require a delicate balance of speed and skill. The straights are long enough to require exceptional horsepower and the corners are tight enough to necessitate strong brakes—and it takes a special driver to balance aggression and patience.

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 13: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Pennzoil Ford, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 13, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Twice the size of Martinsville, Phoenix International Raceway does not have the same challenges in regard to traffic, but there are still a lot of similarities. Drivers have to back up the corner and ease into the turn so they can maximize the exit. The difference between charging a turn or easing into it can be a matter of a few feet, but the momentum that either creates or destroys is felt all the way around the track. In NASCAR tenths of a second in clean air can make a huge difference in performance.

The Can-Am 500k is the third and final race during the Chase on a short, flat track, so fantasy owners have some recent records to consider. Look first to how drivers performed on the other one-miler of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. If a racer was strong there and at Martinsville two weeks ago, they should be highly regarded. Next, look to the fall Richmond International Raceway event and the rest of the short, flat track season on these four tracks. Then consider how well a driver performed in the Good Sam 500k this spring and their overall Phoenix record.


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Goody’s Fast Relief 500

MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Martinsville is one of the short, flat tracks. While they vary in length, Richmond International Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway all share a similarity. In order to go fast on these tracks, drivers have to ease into the turns and accelerate at the apex. That was true last month in the Bad Boy Off Road 300 in New Hampshire and it will be the case two weeks from now in Arizona.

With three short, flat track races in the Chase, skill on this course type is imperative to winning the Championship on par with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Round three is significant because two of the short, flat track events can be found there—just as round two had a pair of “cookie-cutter” races. In between Martinsville and Phoenix, NASCAR visits the final similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track of Texas Motor Speedway. Despite being 1.5-miles in length, Homestead-Miami Speedway’s shape is unique and makes the Ford 400 inimitable.

Martinsville is also a short track. Along with Richmond, fantasy owners can look for inspiration to Bristol Motor Speedway. The high, progressively contoured banks on that track are certainly different than the 12 degrees of banking faced this week, but on both courses racers have to navigate heavy traffic.


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Bad Boy Off Road 300

Short, flat tracks are the second-most common type during the season and the Chase. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the first of this kind in the playoffs.

Like Chicagoland and Dover, New Hampshire has always been won by a Chase contender, including six current Chasers. With 16 of the fastest drivers in playoff contention, it is almost certain that another Chaser will win the New England 300. That will be the 100th victory for them in 122 starts—meaning 82 percent of all Chase races have gone to current contenders.

LOUDON, NH - JULY 17: Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2016 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Last week, Chasers dominated the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400. If not for a late race caution that altered strategy, they would have swept the top five, but Ryan Blaney was able to insert himself into fourth. Still, 13 of the 16 drivers finished 16th or better, leaving only three positions at the very front of the pack for non-Chasers. Two others finished in the top 20, creating an incredibly tight battle for 12th—which is the cutoff to make round two.

At the end of the race, 13 points separate sixth-place Chase Elliott from 15th-place Kyle Larson. Tony Stewart currently sits on the bubble as of this writing in 12th with only a one-point advantage over Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, and Larson. Jimmie Johnson will almost certainly join Dillon and Harvick with 2,027 points once penalties are handed out because his car failed the LIS (Laser Inspection Station) after Chicagoland’s race. Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards will move up a position in the standings and this will create a three-way tie for the bubble.

The slightest mistake can be critical. Johnson’s loss of 10 points would not be as catastrophic if he had won the race, but a pit road speeding penalty late in the going dropped him from contention for the victory to 12th. Martin Truex Jr. had a flat tire early, but overcame the lost track position and won last week. He will be hit with the same penalty as Johnson for the same infraction, but in all likelihood gets to keep the win and its automatic advance to round two.

Larson was in a great position to advance in the points, but he cut a tire down just before the final caution waved to set up a green-white-checkered finish. In today’s “No-Driver-Left-Behind” Era, the loss of a lap cost him at least 12 positions—and with that, 12 points.


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