Friday, June 29, 2012

Evaluating the Field: The Last Race of the First Half Sets the Field for Ten Races to the Chase

Here it is – the last race of the first half of the 2012 Sprint Cup season, in what can be called the race that sets the field for the ten race chase to reach “The Chase.” So let’s take a look at who’s in and who’s out, and perhaps some insights what we’ll be seeing through the summer before the “hand of fate” picks twelve drivers to compete for the 2012 championship.

With two wins each, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski would almost certainly look like sure bets to at worst gain a wild card entrie, though Johnson in 4th and Stewart in 5th are the front runners to top the leader board once the chase formula is applied.

Greg Biffle in 2nd place and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 3rd place with one win each need to continue consistent finishes and they’re locked in. Matt Kenseth sits a top the standings but has no wins, consistent strong finishes will keep him in the field but one has to wonder how much a distraction his leaving Roush/Fenway will pressure the team. With one win each and their accumulated points, Kyle Busch (12th in points) and Ryan Newman (13th in points) currently hold the Wild Card. All that changes for the better if they can move into the top ten in points or if other drivers with a win move to over take them.  Two more drivers remain in the top ten without winning a race, Kevin Harvick in 6th place (3 top 5’s, 8 top 10’s) and Martin Truex in 9th place (4 top 5’s, 8 top 10’s). Carl Edwards, winless, with two top 5’s and eight top 10’s sits in 11th place, no doubt an underachiever so far this season.

Let’s be realistic. Right now, the final twelve chasers will come from the drivers mentioned above every one of them in the top 13. Perhaps the most promising driver to leap into contention would be Joey Logano with one win in 15th place. He’ll need to overcome a 49 point deficit to move in on points. What about Paul Menard in 14th? Given the car #27 has zero top 5’s or top 10’s so far this season, the lack of quality finishes makes him a long shot. Kasey Kahne has one win, a second win changes everything but he’s 69 points out to make the top ten. So what about Jeff Gordon? Can anyone say something good about his situation without loads of “could’s?” In 18th place 182 points out of the top ten, he will not make the chase on points – so winning is the only option and his car has run well before every imaginable form of misfortune has struck borne out with one top five and five top tens. Can Gordon win at least two out of the next eleven races? Possibly… However, the discussion is mute until he bags the first one and that hasn’t happened yet. Right now, it looks like Truex versus Edwards to secure the points advantage while Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman are looking over their shoulder to see how Joey Logano advances.

The only certainty is that winning changes everything.

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