Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 27 -- The Chase is on in Chicago

The 2011 Chase for the Championship begins tomorrow afternoon as twelve drivers contend to be the 2011 Champ, 11 of them attempting to prevent Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team from gaining their 6th consecutive champsionship, and who'd really want to pick against them?

Who can beat them? Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have four wins each, but both have also had some terrible finishes. Terrible finishes kill Chase drives. Jeff Gordon, Johnson's team mate has three wins and the championship "know how" having four championships of his own. The #24 team seems to be getting in a good grove when things matter most. Carl Edwards has been one hot performer for most of the season, but is disaster prone. He's perhaps the best Ford hope for a championship. Then how about Brad Keselowski who's been the hottest driver down the stretch with three wins that propelled him into the first wild card slot. The remaining drivers just don't look that strong. The good news for Stewart-Haas is that both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman made the chase but Ryan Newman has their only win. Quiet Kenseth, Matt Kenseth has two wins, but has had a rather bland season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is winless and hasn't been too strong through the summer. Kurt Busch has likewise faded deeper into the season. Denny Hamlin has one win and just enough points to be the second wild card contender.

Here is how the chase contenders line up and where they stand in the field.

1- Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford (1st)
2- Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge (3rd)
3- Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet (4th)
4- Carl Edwards, #99, Ford (5th)
5- Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge (6th)
6- Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota (8th)
7- Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet (12th)
8- Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88, Chevrolet (19th)
9- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet (23rd)
10- Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet (26th)
11- Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota, (27th)
12- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet (30th)

Drivers are awarded three points in the Chase standings for each win. Thus with the top contenders having four wins, they enjoy a 12 point spread over the winless drivers in the chase. The Chase awards are as follows.

Points Standings
1- Kyle Busch, 4 wins, 2012 points
2- Kevin Harvick, 4 wins, 2012 points
3- Jeff Gordon, 3 wins, 2009 points
4- Matt Kenseth, 2 wins, 2006 points
5- Carl Edwards, 1 win, 2003 points
6- Jimmie Johnson, 1 win, 2003 points
7- Kurt Busch, 1 win, 2003 points
8- Ryan Newman, 1 win, 2003 points
9- Tony Stewart, 2000 points
10- Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2000 points

Wild Cards
1- Brad Keselowski, 2 wins, 2000 points
2- Denny Hamlin, 1 win, 2000 points

It will be interesting to see what drivers appear to have something to prove from outside the Chase field. It looks like Clint Bowyer is a lame duck headed to Michael Waltrip with Five Hour Energy sponsorship. Kasey Kahne, of course, will take Kenny Francis to the #5 car with Hendrick Motorsports.  Will Mark Martin be able to fill out the rest of the year's schedule with Stewart-Haas racing when Danica Patrick is not racing? No number has been selected for that ride, and Robby Gordon insists he'll be back in some capacity retaining the #7 further insulting the memory of Alan Kulwicki.

It probably won't happen, but it sure would make racing more interesting and competative if NASCAR would seriously reduce the starting field. 43 cars is far too many. Somewhere between 33 to 37 makes more sense.

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