Another Chase season is upon us and with the top 12 drivers having their points re-established it is almost like starting over which is a good thing if you’re in the bottom half of the 12 after the first 26 races.
It has been a bit of a tradition here at NASCAR RnR to break down the the Chase drivers and boldly predict the eventually finishing order of the Championship Chase. Well in keeping with that tradition we also bring you a special feature in which some of our more frequent contributors give us their thoughts of the Chase.
Just head on to the other side of the jump to find out what we’ve predicted. I personally use a crystal ball but don’t tell anyone, especially Clance from The Church of the Great Oval, she would get really upset with me since it is hers that I’ve been using these last few years (and she thought she lost it when she moved from one State to another – heh).
First we start off with the biggest Tony Stewart fan out there, Aaron (I think I know where this is going):
The story of the 2010 Chase will be what driver best survived the 10-race playoff to claim the championship, not the driver who dominated.
That’s not to say a driver might not dominate the Chase. Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch all jump out as potential threats to win at least half the races on the Chase schedule, and resurgent Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Tony Stewart also look like they could add to their trophy cases more than a couple of times in the Chase.
However, each of those six drivers have dealt with streaks of disappointing results, either due to performance or just bad luck, and any stretch of bad races will end their title hopes in a hurry.
Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth are all chasing the title, but the winless quartet has struggled to sustain momentum and only Burton and Gordon have exhibited potential race-winning form. A victory may not be necessary to win the Chase, but consistent top-fives will be.
That leaves regular season point leader Kevin Harvick. Of the 12 Chasers, no one has been able to put together the combination of speed and consistency better than Harvick, and if he continues to do so for ten more weeks, it will be the perfect storm that carries the California native to his first Sprint Cup title, making him the second driver to win the Chase after ending the regular season atop the standings (Stewart in 2005), as well only the second driver to win both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide titles in their careers, joining Bobby Labonte.
Hmm … Kevin and not Tony Stewart? I guess I was wrong with that one. Let’s see what Melissa, aka TrackGirl, has to say:
It is that time of year again. The Chase for the Nextel Cup brings out some of the fiercest racing and some of the most calculated racing in the whole season. The drivers in the Chase must weigh wins to points and careful driving to winning it all.
I always wish this was the time of year that the drivers went all out; you know what to the wall kind of racing… but it really does become a set of races that require drivers to consider whether or not the win is worth the risk, points wise.
I sincerely hope that a sleeper comes out this year. I always hope Kyle Busch will show what he is really made of, but he always seems to fade out in the Chase. I pull for Burton and Bowyer, my favorite underdogs. (They aren’t really though, are they?) I would love to see the 14 come out on top, an owner driver? Cool. But you know, I think that I can say I know this sport; and danged if Johnson isn’t going to pull together with Knaus and kick the other drivers’ rear bumpers from here to Homestead. I just bet that the 48 will win, one more time. I think that Johnson and Knaus want to make a point that they haven’t slumped, or lost it, or faded away and I think that the Chase is where they will prove it.
Wait! Jimmie Johnson? Whoa, didn’t see that coming, I honestly thought she would be pulling for The Biff or Cousin Carl. What do I know?
O.K. now its time for my pick. What? O.K, O.K., what is it now? Were these predictions made before or after yesterday’s race? Before, I just couldn’t get them up in time wihtout really cutting into the Open Race Thread (we had a very busy day with that thread yesterday let me tell you).
Now let me peer into Clance’s … er um … my crystal ball and find out the finishing order from 12th to 1st. The images are spinning around tighter and faster than 43 cars racing the highbanks of Bristol. What’s that I see? A car. Its slowing down, almost stopping caught in the orb’s mystic green glow. What is the number on the side?
12) 17 – Matt Kenseth: Sorry Matt you may be a past Champion but your team is not Championship material (yet, wait until next year).
11) 33 – Clint Bowyer: His team is on the verge of something great – just not this year. If he can some wins under his belt look for him to be top 5 next year.
10) 16 – Greg Biffle: I like Greg but that still won’t make him finish higher than 10th (OK maybe 8th).
9) 31 – Jeff Burton: I would really like to see Burton win the Championship but I think he is the next Mark Martin in waiting
8) 99 – Carl Edwards: The highest finisher of the Roush clan and once they get that new motor figured out look out for him and the rest of his brethren next year.
7) 24 – Jeff Gordon: He may want it just as bad a Jimmie but he doesn’t have Chad, Jimmie does.
6) 2 – Kurt Busch: He may not have any teammates to help him in the Chase like the other drivers (except Stewart – on paper anyway) but that won’t matter anyway, he’d still finish around this area in the standings. Great strides made this year and look for him to be a contender next year, just not this year.
5) 11 – Denny Hamlin: Good driver, just not a great one – yet. He needs to mature a little more. He has shown great strides this year, especially with the whole knee deal, but he’s not quite there yet. Give him 2 yrs.
4) 29 – Kevin Harvick: Unfortunately the regular season counts for squat during the Chase. I really want him to win, but I think his team is going to make mistakes down the stretch that even Kevin can’t drive them back from.
3) 18 – Kyle Busch: He’s here because he is a good driver, not as mature as he should be but a whole lot mature than he used to be. This kid is talented and will win multiple Championships down the road, maybe even next year but just not this year.
2) 14 – Tony Stewart: He is calm, cool, collected, and best friends with his car owner but he is missing the key ingredient that Jimmie Johnson has, Chad Knaus.
1) 48 – Jimmie Johnson: His record setting 5-peat can be summed up in two words, Chad Knaus. Rick Hendrick better do everything in his power to keep these two together because I don’t know if Jimmie will ever win another Championship without Chad on his Pit Box. You need to only look at Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon to see what I’m talking about.
Moving on to our newest contributor, Brett Hatfield debuts on Ranting and Raving with his Chase predictions.
As much as it pains me to say it, being a Harvick fanboy and knowing that this is his best chance to win the Cup, I just can’t bet against Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie is an absolute BEAST in the Chase every year, and I don’t see that changing this year, despite Superman being a bit “vulnerable”.
As for the rest of the Chase field, I expect Smoke to finally start running better. Gordon will be a threat for sure. I don’t see the Gibbs boys staying in contention for the long run, as I’m not convinced either Kyle or Denny are cut out for the Chase after previous performances. Their styles just don’t mesh well with the unforgiving nature of the system. Harvick will do reasonably well, I think, and maybe take another win at either Phoenix or ‘Dega, but it won’t enough to win the title.
As for a sleeper, look for Carl Edwards to back up his claims of being better prepared than ever for the Chase. Clint Bowyer looks promising too if he can keep his momentum from the last couple events going.
As for Burton, Biffle, Kenseth, and KuBu, I really don’t see this mixer of past and present Roushketeers being much more than an after thought, to be honest. None really seem to have any momentum currently (honestly, I keep forgetting Kenseth and Burton made the cut), but that could always change.
O.K. that’s it, tell me what you think? Are we close or way out to lunch? Come on give it to us, we can take it!