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NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins to Advance in Chase

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2015 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Martin Truex Jr. came from behind Sunday to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, guaranteeing him a spot among the final eight championship contenders. The team had a poor qualifying performance and started well down the order. The day was very different than the rest of the season as a result of that, too. He worked his way forward throughout the first two stages of the race, and only took control in the final segment. His crew is owed a lot of the recognition for his ability to do that. The spots they gained on pit stops throughout the afternoon gave Truex the track position he needed to overtake the race's early leader Kevin Harvick. That type of team performance was championship caliber, and that could be yet another sign that he could be the one to beat in the title fight.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr.
Truex kicked off the round of 12 the same way he started the playoffs, by winning. His victory in the first race of three in the round gives him the breathing room to rest assured of a spot in the round of eight. It wasn't an easy day for him, though. He disappointed in qualifying and started the race 17th, and was forced to work his way forward. He and the team worked hard to gain spots on pit stops, and then Truex did his job as a driver in the final laps to maintain the lead. He has to get through Talladega next, though. In 25 career starts at the track he has just two top-five finishes. He finished 35th at the track earlier this season.

Kevin Harvick
Harvick had one of the best cars in the field early in Sunday's visit to Charlotte. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has not been as competitive as he would like in the playoffs thus far, but the bonus points for winning both opening stages on Sunday will come in handy as the fight continues. He was unable to hold off Truex for the automatic transfer into the next round of eliminations, though. Still, the pace that he had throughout the afternoon suggests he has found his championship form. He finished third, but he was clearly capable of being the runner up. Harvick led 15 laps at Talladega earlier this season, but finished 23rd. He finished seventh in this race last season.

Kyle Larson
An early mistake dropped Larson to the back of the field after missing his pit stall under caution. That could have derailed his afternoon, but he worked his way back into the top five before the first stage was complete. The stage points he earned from that recovery could be the difference in advancing or not in the championship fight. A poor pit stop late in the race lost him valuable track position as the race was edging toward conclusion, and damage in the final incident of the race only allowed him to finish 10th. That result could have been better without the mistakes. In seven career Talladega starts Larson has two top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place finish in this race last season.

Jamie McMurray
McMurray knew coming into the first race of the round of 12 that he would need to outperform expectations to remain in the championship hunt. He did just that on Sunday. He was a top-five contender all afternoon and found himself lodged into third position with less than 50 laps remaining. This is the furthest he has ever made it in the playoffs, and more performances like Sunday's could see him into the round of eight. At Talladega he has two wins, too. In fact, he finished second there earlier this season, which was his second top-five at the track in the last three races. You could be looking at your dark-horse favorite to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Kurt Busch
With the pressure off of his shoulders after being eliminated from the championship hunt Busch returned to the top of his game in Charlotte. He had a quick machine throughout the weekend, and was one of the top cars in the final miles until spinning in the final laps. That form would have been enough to see him safely through the first round of championship eliminations, but it came too late for him to get the most out of it. He picked up his first superspeedway win in the Daytona 500 in February, and he continues to be one of the best racers in the draft. His 18 top-10 finishes from Talladega along with his performance at Charlotte could signal another good week from the former champion.

DOWNGRADE

Ryan Newman
Newman's playoff run came to an end two weeks ago, but his woes followed him to Charlotte. He was out of the race before 50 laps were complete after contact with Clint Bowyer coming off of the second turn put them both into the wall. Newman's car caught on fire in the incident, and that was more than enough to end his day. In 31 Talladega starts he has a best finish of third. His average finish at the rack is 20.3, and he crashed out of the race there earlier this season and finished 25th. He desperately needs to find improvements to reverse his current slump and end the season with some positivity.

Brad Keselowski
Keselowski struggled to find grip late in Sunday's race. He was one of the lowest-running championship contenders in the final stage of the race, and he missed picking up any stage points as a result of his troubles. He does have four victories in 17 Talladega starts, but he will not be comfortable knowing that he has to get a good result at the wildly unpredictable circuit. He finished seventh there earlier this season and still needs Penske Racing to figure out where they are behind before it is too late and Keselowski is eliminated. He is right on the cut line to make it into the next round, but the pressure will only continue to grow as the team plays catch up.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse's best chance to advance into the next round of championship eliminations is to win again at Talladega. His top-10 performance at Charlotte was ruined when he sped on pit road under the penultimate caution. He dropped behind due to the resulting penalty and was only able to climb back up to 13th. That mistake gave up valuable championship points that could have aided his cause. He is an underdog in the championship fight, but he has been extremely good on the two restrictor-plate circuits this season. Still, it is a lot to expect for him to sweep the two Talladega races this season. It was a good year for him, but it would take something exceptional for that to continue this week.

Clint Bowyer
Bowyer should have had an afternoon to boast of in Charlotte, but an early wreck cost him any opportunity to get a good result. That situation has been the story of the season for this team, though. The first season with a new team will always have teething issues, but with the equipment as his disposal Bowyer should be performing a bit better, perhaps even having a win at this point. Instead, the team still seems to be very inconsistent, which is a problem for fantasy owners. He has another shot at it this week in Talladega where he has two career wins, though. He led 10 laps and finished 14th there earlier this season, so perhaps more is yet to come.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kyle Busch
Last week wasn't the best weekend for Busch. He got loose in qualifying and hit the wall, but the team did not go to a back-up car. The same car got loose in the second stage of Sundays race, and created a situation the driver was not able to overcome. Two more incidents brought out caution late in the final stage, which was emblematic of the rest of his afternoon. He entered the race second in the standings, but left without nearly as much cushion. He will need to perform better in the next two races to assure himself a spot among the final eight championship contenders. Busch has one Talladega win and finished third at the track earlier this season.

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