Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 21 -- Sizing up the Chase for the Chase

The Sprint Cup field will be determined after the next six races. After the Brickyard 400, barring a dreadful collapse, four drivers appear to be sure bets to make the field. They are 1-5 in the points standing, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton have more than a one race margin. Busch is 184 ahead of the break point while Jeff Burton holds a 169 point advantage.

The following drivers are in the top 12 with their points margin in parenthesis next to their names.

8 – Matt Kenseth (127)

9 – Tony Stewart (98)

10 – Carl Edwards (50)

11 – Greg Biffle (16)

12 – Clint Bowyer (0)

Five drivers are within 161 points, one race differential, of 12th place.

13 – Mark Martin (-62)

14 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-93)

15 – Ryan Newman (-147)

16 – Jamie McMurray (-151)

17 – Kasey Kahne (-156)

David Reutimann (-177) and Joey Logano (-205) are long shots who would need to absolutely dominate the field and receive some good old racing luck to make their way in.

Intangibles to be considered, of all the drivers shown above, none of the drivers between 8th and 12th have a single victory. Among the contenders attempting to get in, Ryan Newman has one victory and of course, Jamie McMurray has two dramatic victories, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Ford drivers do not have a single win though Kasey Kahne has five top 5’s while Kenseth has four. Kahne has been involved in many destructive accidents. Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer have consistency on their sides with Stewart having ten top tens while Biffle and Bowyer have eleven.

The “big one” in the closing laps of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona forced miserable finishes on several contenders. With this in mind, with just two races since, it is difficult to pick a team with momentum except points leader Kevin Harvick.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have to face up to the #88 team simply has not developed any consistency this year. With two top fives and six top tens, there are far too many finishes buried deep in the standings and an inability to stack good finishes together. Winning cures many ills, as the cliché goes, but the team still seems prone to costly mistakes. The same can be said in various degrees with the other teams though for many of them being in the thick of the field where accidents happen might be a greater factor.

Handicapping this field as Richmond approaches in September is a daunting task. Drivers in the top 12 on the bubble who look best prepared to make “The Chase” are #14 Tony Stewart and #33 Clint Bowyer. Until Ford proves itself, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, who would otherwise look hopeful, must still be considered tenuous.

Two “blender” races that are notorious for stirring up the standings are ahead with the road race at Watkins Glen after their second visit to Pocono and then Bristol at the end of August.

These are not the only drivers who must strive for ultimate results in the next six races. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson both have five wins. Kevin Harvick, Kurt and Kyle Busch have two victories. None of the other top 12 drivers have a single win. Given the points reward given drivers for victories when “The Chase Field” is determined, Johnson and Hamlin have an attractive advantage.

As the edict from above has been in 2010, “Let’s have at it boys!”

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