Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway put the bottom four drivers in the Chase for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup in a dangerous spot for the last two races of the Contender round. Based on the race series’ new Chase format, four drivers are eliminated after each of the three elimination rounds until only four are left. That means the bottom four drivers are at risk of being eliminated when this round concludes at Talladega on October 19.
Of the bottom four drivers, three are in Chevrolets. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne could all lose their shot at this year’s Sprint Cup Championship if they don’t perform come race day on October 11 at Charlotte and the following week at Talladega. Johnson crashed out early on Sunday and eventually went on to finish 36th, putting him in danger of losing his spot in the Chase. USA Today points out that Johnson has won at Charlotte a total of seven times, so the odds for the next race are in his favor.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed out due to a blown right front tire at Kansas on Sunday, moving him to 11th of the 12 total drivers left in the Chase. Earnhardt has otherwise had a strong season, but with his poor 39th place finish on Sunday, Charlotte will now be crucial to his survival. Kahne will also be fighting for a spot next week and voiced his desire to win at Charlotte to media. He is currently ninth place in the Chase and unlike Earnhardt, has won at the track on four different occasions.
Drivers will be especially hungry for a good finish at Charlotte next week as it alleviates some of the pressure to perform at Talladega the following week, which is consistently one of NASCAR’s most unpredictable tracks. If any of the Chevy drivers lose big at Charlotte, their championship hopes rest on a race at one of NASCAR’s most daunting venues, which isn’t a confidence inspiring situation for any Sprint Cup driver.
Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne all know it – a win at Charlotte is the easiest way to survive.