Danny Peters · Tuesday August 27, 2013
ONE: Every Point Counts
Only two regular season races remain before we start the 2013 iteration of the Chase and for the likes of Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman every point in the next two weeks is beyond critical. Staying out and leading a lap under caution, for example, could just be the difference between making the Chase and missing out when the points are reset following the cutoff race at Richmond.
500 laps at Thunder Valley certainly shook up the standings and the same will likely be true this Sunday evening at venerable old Atlanta Motor Speedway. At this stage of proceedings, however, one mistake – either of your own making or somebody else’s – can destroy a “regular” season’s worth of work. Something as simple as a pit road speeding penalty could become a catastrophic error. For those watching at home or in the stands it creates added (albeit somewhat artificial) excitement: the race within the race if you will. And for those drivers involved it must be a peculiar yet intensely stressful way of racing. Whether you’re a fan or not of the Chase and the Wild Card system, this is how the powers that be hoped the “Race to the Chase” would unfold.
I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all transpires these next couple of weeks.
TWO: A Redemption Tale
As silly season starts to properly heat up, the news is that Stewart/Haas Racing is taking on 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch in a fourth car for the 2014 season. Alongside the irascible Smoke, the spiky Harvick and everyone’s favorite marketing machine it will certainly be quite the driving quartet: one you would assume would produce fireworks all season long.
For Busch, it will be the completion of a redemption tale that has been two seasons in the making. When he lost his ride at Penske Racing, the smart money suggested he would not get another chance in top level equipment, but his form this year in the Furniture Row Chevy has shown his ability to do more with less time and again. He may just miss out on the Chase but it wasn’t for a lack of trying and if he does make the big dance, I would have to say it might just be the most impressive Chase berth in the nine years the format has been in place.
Co-owner of SHR, Gene Haas, nailed his colors to the mast prior to the Bristol race. “I’d be happy to have a driver like that on our team. You’d win a lot of races. I’d really be happy for my company Haas to be in the winner’s circle.”
When this deal is inked tomorrow, you can go ahead and install Kurt the comeback kid Busch as one of the early favorites for 2014.
THREE: Could Logano Be This Season’s Surprise Package?
Headed into the 2011 Chase not even Tony Stewart thought he could win it and he said as much to the media before the first race of the big shebang. Five wins out of ten later and Stewart was hoisting his third Cup crown at Homestead. Last season, Brad Keselowski caught on fire (figuratively speaking) and ran his fine form all the way to what was, to be fair, an unexpected maiden Sprint Cup title.
This season, as I ponder the Chase, I’m wondering if Joey Logano could be the surprise driver. Yes, he still has to wrap up a Chase berth, but if you look at his form since the Coke 600 it’s pretty dam impressive. Logano has the win at Michigan, four top-5’s and 10 top-10’s plus one 11th place run. In amongst that fine form is the aberration of a pair of 40th place finishes (Daytona and Loudon) but with an average finish of 5.6 over the last five races, Logano is hitting form just when it counts. And on Saturday night he wheeled what was essentially a trashed race car to an unlikely top five.
“They can’t put us down and can’t keep us down. This team is awesome,” said Logano. “We deserve to make this Chase and if we keep doing this on days that they’re trying to put us down, we deserve it.”
Is it a stretch to say he could win the whole thing? Sure on one level it is; but stranger things have happened and if the Chase from the last two seasons is anything to go by, we could just see Roger Penske win back to back Cup championships.
FOUR: Five-time Still Odds On for Six
Each Sunday morning I get the pleasure and the privilege of being a guest analyst on the always irreverent, always amusing Carey and Coffey radio show (www.careyandcoffey.com). One of the topics this past weekend was Jimmie Johnson and whether or not we should be wondering about his lack of recent form.
Remember, just a few short weeks ago, Jimmie Johnson’s points lead seemed insurmountable. Now, the lead is down to just 18 and although it’s unlikely he’ll be overhauled, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility if Clint Bowyer has two great weeks. So should fans of the five-time champion be worried?
Absolutely not, I say. To me, Five-time is still the man to beat and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised (in fact I expect it) to see Johnson wrap up a sixth championship with relative ease. Yes, he’s had a poor stretch of form but with a Chase berth secured you can bet crew chief extraordinaire Chad Knaus has been experimenting some these last few weeks.
Come Week One of the Chase, expect normal service to be resumed. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson won one of the final two regular season races to tie Matt Kenseth atop the Chase standings with five wins (and fifteen crucial bonus points). And still, until it’s proved otherwise, it’s Johnson that’s the driver to beat for the 2013 crown.
FIVE: Next Up: Atlanta
This week it’s on to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a 500-mile night race on Labor Day Weekend. I know we would all rather be at Darlington but since that dream has long since died, it’s not a bad second option.
This weekend’s race will be the 105th Cup race at a track that began hosting top echelon events back in 1960. (Quick aside here: the first race at Atlanta was won by Fireball Roberts.)
The 1.54-mile, quad oval track hosted a Goodyear tire test session a few weeks ago with a large complement of teams taking part.
“The thirteen teams testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the most we’ve had at the track in a number of years. It shows how important the AdvoCare 500 is as teams head towards the Chase.” said Ed Clark who is the President of the Speedway.
The data those teams picked up could be vital this weekend.
“Tire wear is so different at Atlanta than any other race,” said Kurt Busch. “I’m excited to see how the tire is going to be with the race and the restarts and the long green flag runs.”
Should be fun to watch, I’m guessing. Enjoy the holiday weekend, folks.
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