This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.
Joey Logano put his car into Victory Lane Sunday at New Hampshire, crediting solid pit stops all afternoon, to claim Penske Racing's second spot in the Contender Round of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. The No. 22's strategy left him on track with the best handling car and the freshest tires in the closing stages of the race, which made all the difference as he was able to hold off all challenges in the final restarts.
Sunday's race was one that gave plenty of Chase drivers a significant challenge. It produced a remarkable 15 caution periods Sunday afternoon, and forced the frontrunners to battle one another through multiple restarts and one overtime period. A number of the championship contenders were felled by contact or mechanical trouble. In hindsight, simply having a clean race would come with a premium. The troubles of the Chase contenders could also spell the end of some of their championship hopes as they now have just one more race to right the ship before the next round begins.
Joey Logano - Logano came on strongly yet again last Sunday. The Penske Racing driver made all the right adjustments to his car, enabling a march forward in the final 50 laps of the race. His four fresh tires made the difference through the closing stages of Sunday's race, enabling him to pass or pull ahead on each restart. The rest of the challengers at the front of the field never really had a chance against the No. 22, who booked his spot in the next round of the Chase. He has yet to grab a Dover win, but does have an average finish of 14.7 from 11 starts there, including two top-5s and seven top-10s, but he now has at least one more round of the Chase to look forward to.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski extended his power to a third week, but wasn't able to seal the deal. The Penske Racing driver was the fastest in practice and took pole for Sunday's race, only to immediately jump out to the lead when the race got underway. He lost positions on early pit stops due to strategy decisions, which forced him to race hard on restarts. Ultimately, that necessity caught him out and put him into the wall with just under 200 laps complete. He was able to work his way back to the front again, though, leading 78 laps on the day. His Dover record includes a win and three top-5 finishes from nine career starts and an average finish of 14.4.
Kyle Larson - Sunday's New Hampshire outing turned out to be another fantastic result for the Chip Ganassi Racing rookie. He raced well all afternoon, keeping his nose clean and making the right strategy decisions to work his way inside the top 5 in the final laps. While he didn't have the fresh tires of Logano had in the closing laps he was able to pick off Kevin Harvick, who restarted ahead of him on multiple occasions, after the final caution. Sunday's second-place result was Larson's second consecutive top-5 finish and his third top-10 finish in the last five races. He may have missed out on the Chase, but Larson could find himself scooping up Rookie of the Year honors.
Kevin Harvick - While he may not be the dominant driver he was at the start of the season, Harvick has been regaining his strength as the Chase moves through its early stages. Harvick was consistently at the front of the field in Sunday's race, leading many laps and being in contention for the win right up until the finish. Kyle Larson passed him on the race's final restart, but that takes nothing away from his top effort on a day that many of his Chase rivals suffered trouble. Harvick has never won at Dover, but does have 12 top-10 finishes at the track along with an average finish of 15.3. His consistent performances now make him a threat for the Cup.
Denny Hamlin - Refueling problems caused Hamlin to fall behind the competition early in Sunday's race. He was forced to give up some laps to the leaders in order to fix the issue. Being trapped deep in the field caused him to be caught in an accident on a restart, effectively ending his day. He finished 37th due to the trouble, and was the lowest placing Chase driver in Sunday's race. Though many Chase teams had problems the ground Hamlin lost put him in danger of elimination next week at Dover. His resume there includes three top-5s and six top-10s from 17 tries. His average finish at the track is 19.6, and he'll need a trouble-free outing to advance in the playoffs.
Kyle Busch - Busch was caught out on a restart and came into contact with Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne while racing for the eighth position. A number of Chase cars were involved, but Busch's damage appeared to be the worst. The contact sent him spinning into the grass, and to the pits for repairs. The team made all the repairs they could with the help of numerous caution periods, enabling Busch to salvage a top-10 finish, though. Busch has two Dover wins along with an average finish of 14.4. He has been on an upswing in performance, turning in better results each week, but would prefer to have a drama-free run in Dover in order to safely progress to the next round of the Chase.
Kasey Kahne - Kahne was one of a handful of Chase drivers caught in a pile up when Matt Kenseth bobbled. Kahne ran into the back of Busch, who in turn was the one that had contact with Kenseth. He suffered damage, losing aerodynamic efficiency for the remainder of the race. Unfortunately, the No. 5 team wasn't able to work the repairs that Busch's team was, and Kahne finished the race deep in the field in 23rd position. The No. 5 has a terrible Dover record, which isn't good news considering the stumble he had in New Hampshire. His 21 races at the track have only returned one top-5 finish and an average result of 21st. He is one of many Chase drivers needing a decent finish next week to advance.
Kurt Busch - Busch was yet another of the many Chase drivers to suffer trouble on Sunday. The No. 41 lost his right front tire and clouted the wall after 200 laps were complete. His car already had battle damage, and after that it was simply a matter of survival as he battled to remain inside the top 20. However, his stamina didn't last and the No. 41 slipped backward to finish 36th to end a disappointing afternoon. Busch is a former Dover winner with six top-5s and eight top-10s from 28 starts at the Monster Mile. His average finish there is 18.2, and really could have used a better run at New Hampshire to help his cause as he seeks to advance to the next round.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Stenhouse collected some right-front damage on a late restart that bent his fender and caused his tire to lose pressure sending him into the wall and out of Sunday's race. The driver of the No. 17 has now ended each of his last two races with contact, which is not the way the team wants to be closing out a rather disappointing season. Though much wasn't expected out of the No. 17 this past weekend, he was on a relative upswing in performance after a remarkably disappointing season. Stenhouse has never scored a top finish at Dover, and in four tries has an average finish of just 20.8, so fantasy owners should rightfully be skeptical of any perceived upside.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon's strategy called for multiple late pit stops when caution periods became the order of the day. The result was a car that was packed with fuel with the freshest four tires in the field. Ultimately, that made no difference as the No. 24 was taken out of contention with a flat right tire with less than 10 laps remaining. The strategy would have been perfect had he not been the one to bring out the caution, but the chips did not fall in Gordon's favor. He does have four wins in his 43 Dover starts, along with an average finish of 11.7. Those stellar statistics are of little consolation for the day that could have been at New Hampshire.