Friday, September 25, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 28: Reviewing the Field

Dover Starting Lineup: For Some Chasers It Will Require an Unqualified Success

The weather forecast for Dover almost looks like divine inspiration as rain sets in on Saturday and continues into Sunday morning, but if the forecast holds true, the rain will ease up around 10 am down to 30% at noon, but at 1 pm when the flag drops, 10% chance of rain, sunshine, and 72o, a lovely late September afternoon on the Delmarva peninsula.

Chasers Jimmie Johnson, Juan Montoya, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle line up 1-4 for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in Dover, with Kasey Kahne, 6th and Jeff Gordon 7th as the only other Chase contestants in the top ten. Surely hoping for better but within striking distance are Brian Vickers, 12th; standings leader, Mark Martin 14th, and Kurt Busch in 16th. The further down the order though, the task will be more difficult and they hopes on winning will be overcoming a bad starting position, an “unqualified success.” For Carl Edwards starting in 30th, the task of moving into contention becomes even more daunting.

Smart driving, staying out of trouble, and opportunistic pit stops will help determine success at a track where total failure is always an option getting caught up in traffic at the wrong place in the track where the smallest error can wipe out several cars all at once. Though not as monolithic as “big ones” at Daytona or Talladega, five or six car pile ups are frequent taking contenders out of the race. At times, the racing looks like Bristol on a one mile field.

Seeing Jimmie Johnson atop the starting order and second in the standings might be creating the sense of inevitability an unprecedented 4th consecutive championship could be at hand. Should Johnson accomplish that, he would become only the fourth driver with more than three championships joining teammate Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty, but to have won them consecutively would represent a feat that none of the greats have ever accomplished. When in any sport has a player or team won four championships in a row? Some of the great Yankee dynasties? UCLA’s basketball reign under John Wooten? Maybe the Boston Celtics? The Yankees won five straight from 1949-1953. UCLA achieved top honors for six consecutive years, 1967-1973. The Celtics, of course, won eight trophies in a row from 1959-1966. It takes these extreme examples to humble what Johnson could be on the verge of accomplishing.

Who can beat Johnson? Surely many are hoping Mark Martin and he’s out in front right now. Tony Stewart is a two time champ but has not been lighting up the field in the second half of the season as many would expect from a driver with a reputation for late season intensity. Jeff Gordon can never be counted out but while being consistent, he has only one win and has seldom dominated this year. Beyond that, any other team is a long shot.

Of note among drivers not in the chase, David Reutimann starts 5th and rookie phenom, Joey Logano starts 10th. Both drivers are figures who could be in the chase in the near future. David Gilliland returns to the #71 ride in 18th starting position. Remember last week with Bobby Labonte, the team struggled to find funds to allow the ex-champ to compete for the whole race. Yes, there will be a full slate of “start and park” entries with only Scott Wimmer in the #4 Morgan-McClure ride going home. Who knows what the correct resolution is for the “start and park” phenomenon is but from a competitive standpoint, it’s just not acceptable.

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