Editor's note: An explanation of Ricky's "Rule of 72" can be found here.
For Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, Talladega lived up to its fearful billing. Consequences are always associated with racing there, and these drivers experienced that firsthand. Their poor finishes left them all well above my magic number of 72, and according to my rule, their Sprint Cup title hopes are dashed.
It pains me to eliminate Johnson because he's had such an outstanding run. What he's accomplished in his career is monumental -- I don't think it will ever be replicated. But I don't see him winning a sixth straight title. Even if he wins this weekend, as I predict he will, he won't take home the championship next month.
So let's talk about the drivers who still have a collective average finish below 72, starting with Kevin Harvick. If I were being a stickler about my rule, Harvick would need to run the table to stay under 72 and in contention. As we get closer to Homestead, there's a bit more wiggle room with the rule. But he needs a solid finish at Martinsville to stay alive. For him to go to Talladega (a track he usually runs well at) and finish 32nd must have been the worst-case scenario for his team.
What separates points leader Carl Edwards from the rest of the Chase crowd is his ability, thus far, to avoid that one disastrous day at the track. Three times in the history of the Chase, a driver has started with six consecutive top-10 finishes. All of those drivers went on to win the championship, and Edwards was within one place of joining that group after finishing 11th at Talladega.
But Martinsville may be his highest hurdle to clear. In 14 career starts there, he only has one top-5 finish. And that affects a driver mentally. This is a track that can get in your head. A lot of the 1.5-mile tracks have similarities, but there's nothing like the half-mile circle in Virginia.
One driver who has been able to avoid any "track history stigma" is Brad Keselowski. If you look back at the majority of his wins, they came at tracks where he didn't have a previous record of success. He has absolutely validated the second-half surge that helped him secure a spot in the Chase. Honestly, I like Keselowski's chances because I like his attitude. He has such a carefree approach.
Thinking back to a conversation I had with him before the first race of the Chase at Chicago, he said, "If we manage the first five races and come out of the first half of the Chase in good shape, then we've got something for them in the second half. We're going to ramp it up." I know part of that was a reference to some lighter race cars, but overall he is just an extremely confident driver with a lot of skill. I think he's capable of making a run at Edwards and ending the season with top-5 finishes.
More importantly, Keselowski thinks he's capable of it. And being comfortable and confident in your car will take you places.
Ricky Craven is a driver with wins in all of NASCAR's top three series, including rookie of the year titles in both the 1992 Nationwide Series and 1995 Sprint Cup series. He currently serves as a NASCAR analyst on ESPN studio programs.