With one race down and nine to go, championship hopes have already been dealt a serious blow to some drivers while some dogged by a mediocre season suddenly look hot, but this is only after one race. The setbacks can be irreversible, but success is only as strong as the next race. Adding to the intrigue, Chicago came down to being a fuel mileage race where a number of Chase participants ran short of fuel, and ironically, Tony Stewart, who was in the lead until the last lap in last year’s opener all but ruining his shot for a third championship, turned out to be the victor just seven points behind Kevin Harvick’s lead in the points.
A hot driver going into the Chase, Jeff Gordon set back significantly Gordon with his 24th place finish dropped to 11th in the standings. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth also ran out of gas and getting a push from J.J. Yeley disqualified his finish dropping him to the front on of the 1st lap down, 21st place. The result, Kenseth stands in 10th in the standings.
Of course nobody’s in worse shape than Denny Hamlin who squeaked into the chase gaining the 2nd wild card, but with his 31st place finish, it’s wait until next year already.
As those drivers were frustrated and Kevin Harvick held his lead with a second place drivers, the two drivers who had to qualify for the Chase in Richmond, are positioned to run for the championship, Tony Stewart couldn’t’ have found a better race for his first win, finally. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 3rd place finish put him in …..
The top of the finishing order was full of Chasers, Carl Edwards, 4th; Brad Keselowski, 5th; Kurt Busch, 6th; Ryan Newman, 8th; Jimmie Johnson, 10th. For the rest of the “chasers” it would b more difficult from Johnson’s 10th, the next chase driver is Matt Kenseth in 21st, followed by Kyle Busch, 22nd; Jeff Gordon, 24th; and Hamlin buried in the desperation spot, 31st.
The new points system where only one point separates each position in the standings and there is no fonr loading with more points for higher finishes, a couple good runs don’t make the difference they would in years past when the driver who wins the race gets 3 points for being in first place, 1 point for leading a lap, and 43 points for being in 1st place with each position after that only being reduced by one point, 42 points for 2nd, 41 for 3rd, etc. Additionally, the driver with the most points gains a bonus point.
Going into tomorrow’s race, the starting position is shown for each driver in the chase.
1- Kevin Harvick (#29), 2054 pts, starts 6th.
2- Tony Stewart (#14), 2047 pts, starts 20th
3- Carl Edwards (#99), 2044 pts, starts 23rd
4- Kurt Busch (#22), 2043 pts, starts 2nd
5- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88), 2041pts, starts 12th
6- Brad Keselowski, (#2), 2040 pts, starts 16th
7- Ryan Newman, (#39), 2040 pts, starts 1st
8- Jimmie Johnson, (#48), 2038 pts, starts 10th
9- Kyle Busch (#18), 2035 pts, starts 8th
10- Matt Kenseth (#17), 2030 pts, starts 27th
11- Jeff Gordon (#24), 2029 pts, starts 7th
12- Denny Hamlin (#11), 2013 pts, starts 28th
How hard is it at this point, consider Denny Hamlin must gain 41 points to tie for first, Jeff Gordon needs 35 points, Mat Kenseth – 34 points, and Kyle Busch is behind 19 points out. The commentators have pointed out, there’s no such thing as a Mulligan in the 2012 chase. With each week, the task becomes tougher. Right now, drivers need to shoot for top 10 or better to continue effectively leading the fight to the following week.
The 2012 Chase will have a different character for sure until or unless Jimmie Johnson moves out in front. From that moment forward, it would seem like business as usual.