Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 27 -- The Chase is On

Here’s the field for the 2010 Chase for the Cup.

1. Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 5060 pts.
2. Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 5050 pts.
3. Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 5030, pts.
4. Kyle Busch, Toyota, 5030 pts.
5. Kurt Busch, Dodge, 5020 pts.
6. Tony Stewart, Chevy, 5010 pts.
7. Greg Biffle, Ford, 5010 pts.
8. Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 5000 pts.
9. Carl Edwards, Ford, 5000 pts.
10. Jeff Burton, Chevy, 5000 pts.
11. Matt Kenseth, Ford, 5000 pts.
12. Clint Bowyer, Chevy, 5000 pts.

So who is going to be championship after the last race in Homestead in November? First, it’s hard not to pick Jimmie Johnson for his 5th championship in a row. The less-than-satisfactory performances are now in the past. With five victories, Johnson is just ten points short of the lead as the Chase begins. They will be more than ready to defend their title.

Perhaps the law of averages will catch up with the #48 team. If they race like they did in the middle of the summer, they will not win the big prize. We believe the following competitors are the most likely to take the cup should Johnson fail.

Tony Stewart: He’s been there and done that. The #14 team has been improving week by week since the Brickyard. “Smoke” is a tough 2nd half performer.

Kevin Harvick: The #29 team has been strong and consistent all season long. Childress racing seems to have resolved the technology problems which plagued them a year ago. If they can snag a couple wins ths fall, they could bring the team its first win since Dale Earnhardt won his last title in 1994.

Kyle Busch: Busch has a flare for the dramatic and has gotten stronger in recent weeks. He’s maturing as a racer having won the Nationwide Championship last year and learning the business of racing with his truck team. Perhaps his greatest challenge will be his equipment itself. JGR cars have had all kinds of bugs, glitches, and failures this year. The last ten weeks are not a good time for an engine to blowup.

Denny Hamlin: After a strong win at Richmond to conclude the regular season, the #11 team is in good shape to make a championship run. Up until that point, the second part of the season has been tough on Hamlin’s team, but the Richmond win helps turn that around. Again, equipment failure is the big concern.

All the rest of the teams have serious questions about their performance. How different things would look for Jeff Gordon if his team scored a couple wins. If they can win races, they can put themselves in the hunt, but until that happens, they will be outside looking in.

With just one win among the Roush teams, it’s hard to see a Blue Oval championship. The FR-9 engine has not yet produced the kind of results needed to put Ford in week-to-week parity with the other teams. Carl Edwards and the #99 team have shown much improvement in recent weeks coming close to victory but never being the commanding car. Edwards is a driver who can go on a hot streak. Biffle has looked brilliant at times but then gets in the thick of the action where big wrecks occur.

Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer have never shown a true killer instinct this year. They’re good enough for the chase but not good enough to win a championship. While Jeff Burton certainly has been solid and consistent, he seems to lack the killer instinct to outfox the competition in the final laps. The #17 team just doesn't look racy on the track. It will be a winter for the engineers to do their gearhead best to help make Matt Kenseth a winner again. Clint Bowyer is just too unpredictable at this stage in his career.

The Chase contenders start as follows.

1. Clint Bowyer (2nd)
2. Tony Stewart (3rd)
3. Kyle Busch (9th)
4. Carl Edwards (10th)
5. Kurt Busch (12th)
6. Jeff Burton (13th)
7. Greg Biffle (14th)
8. Jeff Gordon (17th)
9. Denny Hamlin (22nd)
10. Jimmie Johnson (25th)
11. Kevin Harvick (27th)
12. Matt Kenseth (33rd)

With Brad Keselowski on the poll, his mischievous and risky style of racing could create trouble for the chasers until he settles back into the pack. One sponsored ride, the #26 ride drive by Jeff Green, failed to qualifying. One start and quit team, the #66 Prism car driven by Johnny Sauter, did not make the field. There could be up to eight teams cluttering up the early going of the race before they bailout to the garage and collect their earnings for making the starting lineup. One step in the right direction would be to ban all teams that do not have the resources or intent to complete races from the final tens races, the postseason, where the attention focuses on crowning a champ. Perhaps, teams could be allowed to add more than the four car maximum in the final 10 races for R&D, just a thought for discussion.


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