Friday, September 18, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 27: The Chase Begins at Loudon

Looking forward to almost perfect weather, sunny in the mid 70’s, the 2009 Chase for the Championship will get underway in Loudon, New Hampshire Sunday as the fortunate 12 do battle for the Sprint Cup trophy ten races away in Homestead, Florida.

Can anyone imagine that the champ won’t be racing with a Hendricks engine and chassis?
Mark Martin leads the field ahead with the most wins followed by Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, but who’d count out Jeff Gordon, the four time champ. If any of these four drivers win the championship, it will be a historic story whether Mark Martin, at his age after so many 2nd place finishes finally gets his just reward or the battle of the former champs. If Johnson wins, that would give him four straight. Would that vault him into the company where only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt stand? Tony Stewart would become a three time champ but also the first owner/driver to win in decades. Jeff Gordon would move his status closer to that of Petty and Earnhardt with five championships.

Of the remaining eight drivers, who could make it? Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are strong stretch drivers, but neither one of them has a win this year. The only Roush victories belong to Matt Kenseth and where’s he?

Kurt Busch’s picture became foggy with the departure of crew chief Pat Tryson.

Kasey Kahne comes from an operation that had no rides in the chase last year. It would be a huge leap for them. Denny Hamlin is Joe Gibbs’ lone entry this year. Hamlin is plagued with inconsistency. Brian Vickers and Juan Montoya are newcomers in the Chase. Juan Montoya though is a champ from his previous career, but can the Earnhardt/Ganassi garage give him the equipment he needs? Brian Vickers is a newcomer with Red Bull’s first shot at a championship.

The remaining driver, Ryan Newman, has not won a race yet this year, but his presence in the chase demonstrates just how strong the Stewart/Haas operation is. Newman is a driver who has the potential to win at any track at any time.

While most attention will be on the twelve drivers in the chase, others will be auditioning for next year. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and the entire Richard Childress garage, and Kyle Busch all have much to prove. How much more will Joey Logano show in his push toward being crowned rookie-of-the-year?

As the series moves deeper into autumn, what’s going to happen at the bottom of the field? The top 35 for owners’ points which determines the default starters for the first three races next year appears set with the #34 Earnhardt/Ganassi team having a sizable lead over the second Red Bull entry. That field will shrink with the elimination of the #26 team at Roush and one ride disappears to facilitate the Yates/Richard Petty merger. Likewise, what will become of the ill-fated Hall-of-Fame entry which partnered with Yates this year? Beyond these questions, the remainder of the field consists mainly of “start and park” entries that have no chance at the top 35. It would appear some owners’ points will be up for sale to transfer to other teams over the winter.

At first glance, this year’s chase does not start with the hot contention with three teams so closely matched as last year when Johnson, Edwards, and Kyle Busch started the chase so closely grouped together. This year’s battle is more a clash of the legendary Titans where the final results have so much potential to be a significant milestone in NASCAR history.

Strap on the helmet, tighten up the belts, check the gauges, IT’S CHASE TIME!!!

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