NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Wins to Advance

NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Wins to Advance

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Rain wasn't able to dampen Carl Edwards' parade, but it did enhance it. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver took the lead in the rain-delayed and shortened AAA Texas 500 on Sunday to earn him one of the three remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup spots for the season finale at Homestead in two weeks. He led just 36 laps after a lightning fast pit stop ended the early domination of Joey Logano, and that put him out front when the rain fell again to bring a halt to the proceedings.

Just one race remains for the other six Chase contenders to claim the final two spots among the final four in Homestead. Already we have two drivers that have never advanced this far under the current format, and the stakes couldn't be higher for the remaining drivers eligible to hoist the trophy. The penultimate race awaits us this week in Phoenix, and then we will cap off the 2016 with a winner-take-all extravaganza in south Florida.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards – Edwards started in ninth position and led just 36 laps on Sunday night but was in the right place when rain started falling again at Texas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver earned his fourth victory at the track with the fortunate circumstances, and the win also allows him to stand among the final four drivers eligible to win the 2016 Sprint Cup. This will be the first time he enters the Homestead finale among the championship contenders in the current

Rain wasn't able to dampen Carl Edwards' parade, but it did enhance it. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver took the lead in the rain-delayed and shortened AAA Texas 500 on Sunday to earn him one of the three remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup spots for the season finale at Homestead in two weeks. He led just 36 laps after a lightning fast pit stop ended the early domination of Joey Logano, and that put him out front when the rain fell again to bring a halt to the proceedings.

Just one race remains for the other six Chase contenders to claim the final two spots among the final four in Homestead. Already we have two drivers that have never advanced this far under the current format, and the stakes couldn't be higher for the remaining drivers eligible to hoist the trophy. The penultimate race awaits us this week in Phoenix, and then we will cap off the 2016 with a winner-take-all extravaganza in south Florida.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards – Edwards started in ninth position and led just 36 laps on Sunday night but was in the right place when rain started falling again at Texas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver earned his fourth victory at the track with the fortunate circumstances, and the win also allows him to stand among the final four drivers eligible to win the 2016 Sprint Cup. This will be the first time he enters the Homestead finale among the championship contenders in the current format. However, he has lost the title at the track before. He and the team have one more chance to fine tune their technique for that battle, and Phoenix is a venue where he has won twice.

Joey Logano – Logano was the dominant car in Saturday's delayed race at Texas. The Penske Racing driver started the race on the front row and jumped out to lead the majority of the opening laps and 178 of the 293 run in total. While he didn't lock himself into Homestead with a win, he did add another top finish to his resume. That could be enough to earn him a spot in the finale. In total, he has four top-10s and three top-fives in the last five races. We'll never know what may have happened if the rain in Texas hadn't come, but Logano still appears to be ready for a championship fight. He has five Phoenix top-10s in the last six races at the track.

Chase Elliott – Saturday's affair at Texas could have been one of Elliott's biggest opportunities to snare a rookie-season win. He practiced and qualified well in the buildup to Sunday's event but finished fourth with three laps led when the race was ended. It was another complete performance for the young driver who is still working to find his feet in NASCAR's senior series. Future wins for the driver of the No. 24 don't appear far off, and he still has two chances to get one in his maiden season. He started 17th and finished eighth at Phoenix earlier this season with another impressive rookie display and may be in line for another top weekend in the desert this week.

Martin Truex Jr. – While Truex is no longer be in the championship fight, he continues to have his best season in his Sprint Cup career. His third-place finish in Texas Sunday night was his eighth top-five of the season and puts him at the top of the points for drivers no longer in the Chase. Truex has nothing left to do but race for wins in the final two races of the season, and he can be expected to go all out in Phoenix this week. He has back-to-back 14th-place finishes at the desert oval heading into this weekend's race, and his best finish at the track was fifth in 2009. Fantasy players can reasonably expect another top-five effort this week from the No. 78 team.

Kevin Harvick – Regardless of where Harvick would have finished in Texas, he likely was going to have a spot in the upgrade column ahead of Phoenix. His record at the desert oval has been so strong recently that he'll undoubtedly enter the race as the odds-on favorite to win. To make him even more dangerous, he finished sixth at Texas. While that result is nowhere near what he needed to feel entirely comfortable advancing to Homestead in two weeks, it was enough to keep momentum and confidence high. While he's in a virtual must-win situation, he couldn't ask for a better track. He has eight career Phoenix victories, and six of those have come in the last eight races at the circuit.

DOWNGRADE

Austin Dillon – Sunday's Texas race started out promising for Dillon. The Richard Childress Racing driver started from pole position and was poised to earn his best-ever finish at the track. Instead, he tangled with Harvick, which put him into the wall. The damage warranted repairs, which ended any chances of salvaging a top finish in the rain-shortened event. The 37th-place finish was his second result worse than 30th in the last five races. Still, the team has nothing to go for but wins in the remaining two races, and Dillon desperately wants his maiden Sprint Cup victory. He picked up his first Phoenix top-10 earlier this season in his fifth career Sprint Cup start at the track.

Paul Menard – Maybe it was an anomaly, but Menard was able to qualify inside the top 10 for Sunday's Texas race. His teammate was on pole, too. All told it should have been a strong night for Menard, who has struggled through most of 2016. It wasn't, however. Menard finished deep in the field in the 28th position. That makes it four out of the last five races where the Richard Childress Racing driver finished 20th or lower. He has just two top-10s as the season enters its final two races, and that's a far cry from what fantasy players should normally expect of him. He crashed out of the Phoenix race earlier this season, and fantasy players should probably hunt for other options this week.

Kurt Busch – After being a nonfactor in Sunday's race Busch is now staring a must-win situation in the face at Phoenix on Sunday. He sits 34 points behind brother Kyle and is last among the eight remaining Chase contenders. All's not lost for him, however. Busch won at Phoenix in 2005 and has a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes at the track heading into this weekend's race. The pressure is on, though. The team cannot afford any mistakes and will have to hit the track at their best from the second they unload the car. It's a tall order to make his way into Homestead still in the Chase, but Busch is one driver who may be capable of getting it done.

Kyle Larson – Sunday's race at Texas may have been one of Larson's best opportunities to score another win before the 2016 season comes to a close. The driver of the No. 42 was well-poised throughout practice and started Sunday's race inside the top five. He slid backward by the time rain brought proceedings to a close, though. The 15th-place finish was his third finish of 14th or worse in the last five races. His prospects for Phoenix don't appear too great, either. In five career starts at the track he has one top-10 finish with an average result of 15.2. He finished 12th there earlier this year, but wins are all that matter the next two races.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kasey Kahne – Perhaps Kahne isn't worthy of being a "surprise" at a 1.5-mile quad-oval, but he pulled off a big turnaround in performance on Sunday. Ahead of the race Kahne would have been touted as a decent fantasy selection due to his past success on tracks like Texas, but his practice and qualifying efforts left much to be desired. He successfully reversed that trend in the race, however. His 31st-place start was improved dramatically to an eighth-place finish at the end of the night. The result was his third top-10 in the last five races and his 13th of the season. The jury remains out for his expectations in Phoenix, however. He has one win at the track from 2011, but has 22nd- and 26th-place results in his last two tries.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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