Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chase Check-Up

We are halfway in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.  In the first 5 races, we've seen the standings shaken up on more than one occasion.  With two "wild card" tracks still ahead, we still aren't sure who could raise the Sprint Cup trophy at Homestead.  The standings look a lot different than many NASCAR Insiders thought they would at this point in the season.  Here's a breakdown of the standings:

1.) Carl Edwards - The points leader looks poised to win his first Championship.  Roush Fenway Racing is strong on the downforce tracks.  If he can make it through Talladega and Martinsville, he could find himself headed to his first Sprint Cup Championship.

Carl Edwards after his win at Las Vegas (Photo courtesy
 2.) Kevin Harvick (-5) - Kevin Harvick works hard.  That is why he is second in the standings.  Richard Childress Racing has not had the speed this year that they had last year.  But Harvick is good at Talladega and Martinsville, and is a threat to win both of those races.  It will be hard to stop Harvick if he gets on a roll coming down the stretch.

3.) Matt Kenseth (-7) - Following his win at Charlotte, Kenseth is poised to win his second career championship.  He is in the same boat as Edwards; his cars are fast, but he needs to make it through Talladega and Martinsville unscathed.  If he can do that, he could be a favorite to win the championship.

4.) Kyle Busch (-18) - Kyle Busch has yet to win a race in the Chase.  But after a slow start, he has finished strongly in the last few races.  But he will need a win to win the championship, regardless of what happens at Talladega and Martinsville.  But, at only 18 points out, Kyle Busch is still in the hunt for the Championship.

5.) Tony Stewart (-24) - After winning the first two races of the Chase, Tony Stewart stumbled at Dover.  But he has remained surprisingly strong in the Chase, and finds himself within striking distance.  If any of the drivers in front of him have trouble at Talladega or Martinsville, he could capitalize on their misfortune.  If it all works in Stewart's favor, he could be hoisting his 3rd Sprint Cup trophy at Homestead.

6.) Brad Keselowski (-25) - Brad Keselowski was strong when the Chase started, but he stumbled at Charlotte.  He could easily find his step again and win one or two more races before the season is over.  But he, like Stewart, will need some help getting back into contention.

7.) Kurt Busch (-27) - Kurt Busch is difficult to figure out.  Some weeks he is good, others he is not.  This inconsistency is the exact reason why he will not win the championship this year.  I would not be surprised to see Kurt Busch win another race before the season is over, but his inconsistent finishes will prove too much to overcome.

8.) Jimmie Johnson (-35) - Jimmie Johnson finds himself in unfamiliar territory.  He is down by 35 points with only 5 races remaining.  Johnson should never be counted out, but I don't think Five-Time will become Six-Time this year.  The streak is over, and we will see our first new champion since Tony Stewart in 2005.

Johnson's Championship hopes were put in jeopardy after his wreck at Charlotte (photo courtesy Getty Images)
 9.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-60) - NASCAR's Most Popular Driver will once again not win the championship.  At 60 points out of first, Earnhardt Jr. has not shown the speed this year that could help him get out of this hole.  Even a win at Talladega will do little to help his cause.  Junior Nation will be left waiting until next year.

10.) Ryan Newman (-61) - Ryan Newman has always been hit or miss in the Chase, and this year he's missed.  Inconsistency has plagued the Stewart-Haas driver, and this has proven too much for Newman to overcome.

11.) Jeff Gordon (-66) - Jeff Gordon was an early favorite to win the championship this year.  Many believed that Gordon would win his 5th Sprint Cup Title.  But after bad finishes have plagued his Chase run, his Drive for Five seems to be over.  A 66 point deficit is too much to overcome, and Gordon fans will have to wait until next year, when the Drive for Five begins at Daytona.

12.) Denny Hamlin (-86) - What can you say about Denny Hamlin.  After a disappointing regular season, Hamlin's bad luck has continued into the Chase.  At 86 points out, Hamlin's championship hopes are already dashed.  For Hamlin's sake, hopefully his bad luck will end in 2012.

The Chase is halfway done, and there are 4 or 5 drivers who still have a legitimate shot to win the championship.  But with Talladega and Martinsville as the next two races on the schedule, anything can happen.  Following those two tracks, the Cup Series will roll into Texas, and the Roush Fenway cars should be strong there.  Phoenix could be another wild card race, due to the fact that the track has been recently paved.  Then the Chase will conclude at Homestead.  After 5 races are down, I'm going to pick Carl Edwards to win the championship this year.  No matter who you're rooting for, the Chase will be fun to watch all the way down to Homestead, where someone will hoist the Sprint Cup Trophy.

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