Normally, the "wild card" event for the Chase has always been Talladega. So much out of the control of the driver, it's more a matter of survival rather than finishing strong.
This season, that may not be the case. With the second half of the Chase set to begin on Sunday, the "wild card" event is a track that has been in the final 10-race title battle for years, but this time is completely different. Already one race has been run at this track, but immediately afterward an entire construction crew went to work tearing up the track, and set forth in laying down new asphalt, a new banking, and making the track entirely different.
The twister that hit Kansas Speedway for this year has created an entirely new track, one that even after a few days of testing drivers are extremely pleased with. Little drop-off in tire wear, fast speeds, and progressive banking have made this track one that no one knows what to expect.
In a way, this track is what Phoenix was last season, and that could bring about major changes in the standings.
With five races down, every writer is widdling down the list they can choose from each week, as a different driver could either win them a race, or drop them like an anchor. With so many unknowns on this new surface, anything is possible.
Here's a look at who these guys and gals decided to pick for victory in the Hollywood Casino 400:
Misan Akuya: Jeff Gordon
Gordon will not win the championship. But that doesn't mean he can't win a race. He won the first two races at Kansas and should be in contention in the first race on the freshly paved track on Sunday.
James Broomhead: Brad Keselowski
I’ll be honest, I had Denny Hamlin pencilled in for this week but with news of him scraping the wall in testing I’ve called an audible and swapped to Keselowki.
If he’s going to win a championship he needs to be good on the intermediate tracks. I’m hoping he is this weekend.
Kelly Crandall: Brad Keselowski
Haven't used him yet, might as well now.
Billy Fellin: Greg Biffle
The Biff hasn't had the Chase he and Roush-Fenway may have wanted, but he runs well at Kansas. Granted, it's repaved so who knows what will happen, but I'll take the 16.
Michael Hirshbein: Clint Bowyer
Christopher Leone: Martin Truex Jr.
Gotta make up for the other Kansas ending.
Kara Martin: Jimmie Johnson
Ryan O'Hara: Kasey Kahne
Dustin Parks: Brad Keselowski
Last week for the first time fuel mileage was not this team's best friend, and it cost them some ground over those chasing him for the title. The track may be the same size as Charlotte, but it's totally different now with the repave.
But Brad needs a rebound week following the let down at Charlotte. Gimme the blue deuce this week, and I'll toast a victory with a Miller Lite.
Patti Rodisch: Clint Bowyer
He is carrying a ton of momentum after his win in Charlotte last week. Home cooking will continue Bowyer's surge up the standings.
Sal Sigala Jr: Greg Biffle
I'm taking the Biff as much as I don't like him.
Rob Tiongson: Brad Keselowski
Why not? It's probably more of a bigger wild card than Talladega was but in a way that drafting won't separate the field.
Instead, it'll be an unknown with a familiar (somewhat) setting in Kansas Speedway. Should be fun!
Can't hurt to go with the points leader seeing as I am the points leader...in this series that is.
Standings following Charlotte:
Rob Tiongson (2205) Denny Hamlin finished 2nd (4)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2204) Denny Hamlin finished 2nd (3)
Ryan O'Hara (2194) Kyle Busch finished 5th (2)
James Broomhead (2190) Kasey Kahne finished 8th (3)
Dustin Parks (2190) Kasey Kahne finished 8th (2)
Kelly Crandall (2185) Kasey Kahne finished 8th (4)
Billy Fellin (2168) Kasey Kahne finished 8th (5)
Patti Rodisch (2165) Greg Biffle finished 4th (2)
Misan Akuya (2162) Kasey Kahne finished 8th (1)
Kara Martin (2161) Jeff Gordon finished 18th (3)
Christopher Leone (2150) Jeff Gordon finished 18th (3)
Michael Hirshbein (2148) Denny Hamlin finished 2nd (1)
Final Thoughts: Newly paved tracks present a lot of challenges, both for the driver and crews. Already this year NASCAR has visited two tracks that went under construction with new asphalt, while another got a grinder treatment to part of the surface. One even had a partial repaving thanks to one of the craziest incidents in the sport's history.
Sunday's action will be similar, with many more unknowns regarding tire wear and setups. It will be a day where everyone will learn on the fly, and that could either mean trouble or success.
Coverage kicks off at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN with "NASCAR Countdown," with the green flag waving just over an hour later.
Summary of Picks:
Martin Truex Jr-1