This time of the year brings much uncertainty around the racing industry as everyone gets ready for the upcoming Chase. It seems like every year someone new emerges as one of the front-runners, particularly Denny Hamlin this year. He’s been in the Chase before, but not with as much force as this year. The question, though, is this: can he keep that momentum going throughout the next 10 weeks?
Of course, I have my favorite drivers in the Chase, but I’m not here to tell you why I think “so-and-so” is going to win…. Or why “what’s his name” is going to lose miserably. So, what I am going to do is a driver-by-driver analysis for the Chase in order of the current standings. Are you ready? Well, here goes nothing:
1. Denny Hamlin: With 6 wins and coming off of a win at Richmond last week, he’s definitely got some momentum. He only has 11 top tens throughout the season, though, which is the 11th lowest number out of all Chase contenders. Yes, he’s been consistent (even though his average finish is 15.2), but he hasn’t been as consistent as his competitors.
2. Jimmie Johnson: He’s kind of been lurking throughout this season without many “show off” performances, but his average finish (14.5) proves that he’s keeping his eye on the prize. I’m sure he’s interested in making even more history with a 5th championship, which would be an unbelievable stat.
3. Kevin Harvick: Mr. Ronald McDonald himself (sorry, I couldn’t resist…his fire suit cracks me up) has a very impressive average finish: 9.8. When you talk about consistently being in the game, Harvick is definitely your man. He’s completed 98.3% of his laps during this entire season, meaning that he and his team don’t give up. Period.
4. Kyle Busch: It seems like every race is Kyle’s proving ground. He’s had 14 top tens with 8 of them being top fives and is competitive week-in and week-out. People can make fun of him for wearing a pink fire suit, but hey – he can do what he wants as long as he performs in the car.
5. Kurt Busch: Where did Kurt come from? He has had some good finishes this season, but there have been some doozies, too. A 40th place finish at the Carfax 400 won’t help you win championships, so they’ve got to work on their performance if they want to be crowned in 10 races.
6. Tony Stewart: The 14 team got off to a rocky start this year, but it looks like they’ve found something that works. In the last 15 races, Tony’s average finish is 9.4, and in his words, they’re moving upward. Plus, if you took out the two twenty-something outliers, it would be even higher. Last year, their peak was at the beginning and middle of the season; this year, it’s right now.
7. Greg Biffle: This team has been laying low this whole season and had some pretty decent strings of finishes. The last 5 races, though haven’t been beneficial for the 16 team’s momentum because they include a 32nd place finish at Richmond, a 36th place finish at Atlanta, and a 24th place finish at Watkins Glen. They’re going to need to turn that around ASAP if they want to contend for the championship.
8. Jeff Gordon: It’s pretty impressive that 10 of Jeff’s 13 top tens have been top fives. Just like Johnson, he’s been quietly looming in the background. This team always seems to show up when it counts, so look for the 24 to be extremely competitive throughout the Chase.
9. Carl Edwards: Cousin Carl seems to be improving in this phase of the competition. In the last 9 races, his worst finish was 12th, making his average finish a 5.6. Wow. Now, that’s what can win a championship.
10. Jeff Burton: Jeff has had an up and down year. He’s had 13 top tens, but he’s also had 7 races where he finished below 20th. He has the skill to win the championship, but he just needs a little bit of luck to be on his side.
11. Matt Kenseth: The 17 team needs to get back in the routine they were in 6 races ago. Since then, 4 of their finishes have been in the teens, which is definitely not going to win them a championship. They have the equipment and know-how, so you never know what will come out of their sleeve.
12. Clint Bowyer: This guy is in it to win it. It was impressive to see their team’s determination to get into the Chase at Richmond. When they needed to just finish 28th or better, they were contending for the win, risking everything. They’ve had mediocre performances, but the drive is there, so look for them to perform better during the next 10 weeks.
So, what do you think? Who do you think will come out on top of the Chase totem pole? Post your comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!