1. Will the AAA 400 at Dover even be run?
It’s September here on the East Coast of the good ‘ol U S of A, and every year around this time we find ourselves in the midst of what is known as hurricane season. It’s an oh-so-glorious time of year where massive tropical storms bear down on the American East Coast and ruin everything they come in contact with. Oh, and they make things wet. Very wet.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will unfortunately have to deal with this reality on Sunday, as Hurricane Joaquin (who names these storms?) is making a beeline for the Delaware area and will likely hit the city of Dover sometime on Sunday. Yeah, not good.
It has been quite a while since the Cup Series has had to deal with something like this, so it remains to be seen how the industry will cope if the hurricane does in fact stay on track to hit the Delaware area. It could mean that the race does not go off until Tuesday or Wednesday, and with the current structure of the Chase schedule, a delay of that nature could lead to serious issues for the next race on the circuit in Charlotte.
With any luck, Sunday’s will hopefully be run to its completion without a hitch, but with weather forecasters being apprehensive about the track of Joaquin, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this Sunday’s race will be contested at all.
2. Can Kevin Harvick avoid elimination?
If it weren’t for two measly laps worth of fuel last week, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But alas, we’ve reached round two of the 2015 Chase, and Kevin Harvick, the proverbial favorite to win the championship, is on the outside looking in with one race left before the first elimination.
The No. 4 team’s Challenger Round performance thus far could best be described as a comedy of errors, as extremely poor pit calls in both races have led to poor finishes on days where the No. 4 team conceivably could have won. And now, with the team sitting in 15th, three spots below the cutoff for the next elimination, they have only one surefire way at this point to get into the next round: win.
Harvick and the No. 4 team are built to step up in these kinds of situations, and they are pound-for-pound one of the three strongest overall teams in the garage. They can absolutely win the race on Sunday and advance. That being said, if they come up short, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
3. Can Jimmie Johnson finally return to form?
To this point, it has been a tale of two seasons for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. The team started off the year with a bang, grabbing four wins in the first 13 races of the season and establishing themselves as a bona fide title contender. But since then? It’s been tough sledding for Hendrick Motorsports’ flagship team.
Since Johnson’s Dover win, the No. 48 squad has only posted three top-five finishes and have generally been in a slump. The team has turned it around to some degree in recent weeks and is sitting fifth in points, but if they want to be truly title-worthy, they’ll have to start putting together race-winning performances sometime in the very near future. And traditionally, that is what they have always done.
It’s very possible that the first of those race-winning performances could come this Sunday at Dover. Johnson is the undisputed king of the Monster Mile and is statistically the best driver to ever race at the facility. He won the June race here, and with his team appearing to slowly be working its way back to its usual form, could this be the race that sparks a seventh title run for Team 48?
4. Kyle Busch vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Who takes the final advancement spot?
Last week’s frenetic race in New Hampshire did not just ruin my Draft Kings profits (and I’ll be honest, I’m still recovering from that bad beat), it also flipped the Chase picture on its head. A blown-tire mid-race relegated Busch to a finish in the deep 30s, while a fuel miscalculation cost Earnhardt a top-five finish. In both cases, one poor race at New Hampshire has left each team fighting to hang on to their Chase hopes.
Earnhardt, the final driver who would make the next round if points stayed as they are entering Dover, goes into the weekend with a tenuous one-point advantage over Busch in 13th. 11th place Jamie McMurray has a one-point advantage over Earnhardt, and Paul Menard sits only one point behind Busch in 14th. All things considered, that means the final two spots in the Chase will likely go to whichever two drivers in this group finish the highest. That is provided that Harvick doesn’t win the race, which would conceivably leave one spot for these drivers to fight for.
No matter what happens, my estimation is that Busch and Earnhardt will be fighting over that last spot for advancement. Their numbers at the Monster Mile have been pretty close to even as of late, so this one is a literal toss-up that could come down to the last lap.
Either way, a big name is almost certainly going to get bounced after the first round of the Chase.