Monday, September 12, 2011

Cut to the Chase

The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup is upon us once again!  This year, we didn't know who would be in the Chase until the checkered flag fell at Richmond International Raceway.  Thanks to the new Wild Card, there were many scenarios that made it interesting until the very end.  Many were wondering if Brad Keselowski, who has been on a recent hot streak, could break into the Top 10 and kick either Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Tony Stewart out.  But after all the dust settled, nothing had changed in the Top 10, and the 12 drivers who made the Chase were the 12 drivers who were eligible when the race started.
The 2011 Chase field. (photo courtesy Getty Images
1. Kyle Busch - He's been fast all season, and he is a favorite as the Chase gets started.
2. Kevin Harvick - RCR has been slow in the past few weeks but, with his win at Richmond, Harvick has asserted himself as a Chase favorite for the 2nd consecutive season.
3. Jeff Gordon - With his 85th Career win, Jeff Gordon showed us that his 24 Chevy is fast.  The Drive for 5 is, in fact, alive.
4. Matt Kenseth - Kenseth has been consistent all season long, and it looks like the Kenseth of old who won the 2003 Championship has returned.
5. Carl Edwards - The Roush cars have not been as fast in recent weeks, but after Richmond, Carl Edwards seems poised to win his first Sprint Cup Championship.
6. Jimmie Johnson - The 5-Time Champ has seemed off his game as of late, but he and Chad Knaus can still get the job done.  Don't count out Johnson until the checkered flag falls at Homestead.
7. Kurt Busch - After a major meltdown following the Richmond race, many are questioning if Busch can hold it together long enough to fight for the Championship.
8. Ryan Newman - He has looked better this season than his team owner, but his lack of Chase experience may hurt him.
9. Tony Stewart - He has stated that his cars aren't as good as they could be.  Don't expect Stewart to make much noise during the Championship hunt.
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior returns to the Chase after a strong start to the season.  But poor performances in the past month have Junior Nation wondering what went wrong.
11. Brad Keselowski - Keselowski has come on strong since breaking his ankle in August.  If that continues during the Chase, don't be surprised to see Brad fighting with the likes of Jimmie Johnson.
12. Denny Hamlin - With the final Wild Card spot, Denny Hamlin is hoping to undo the championship heartbreak of last year.  But after a season of struggles, and just 1 win, don't expect Hamlin to be fighting for it when we roll into Homestead.
The 12 Chase Drivers Celebrate (photo courtesy Getty Images)
 The Wild Card has done its job by making the Race to the Chase interesting.  It would be a safe choice to pick Jimmie Johnson to win his 6th straight title, but I'm going with Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon.  Kyle Busch has matured, and he seems ready to finally win a Sprint Cup Championship.  Jeff Gordon has been fast all year and, teamed with Crew Chief Alan Gustafson, he seems ready to win his first Cup title since 2001.  Hopefully the Chase will be as exciting as the Race to the Chase, and we won't know who the Champion is until the dust settles at Homestead in November.

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