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Mike Lovecchio · Monday August 16, 2010
Jimmie Johnson will be your regular season win leader
With three races remaining until the Chase begins, Jimmie Johnson is in a tight battle with Denny Hamlin for the wins lead and thus the point lead when the standings reset for the 10-race playoff. But while Hamlin has one more top 5 than Johnson and a 33-point advantage, the schedule plays in favor of the No. 48 team over the next three weeks… much like it will for the final ten races as well. The series’ second trip to Bristol next weekend will be a welcome one for your four-time defending champion who won the Spring event, leading 84 laps in the process (Hamlin started 15th and finished 19th). He also has six combined wins at the next two stops (Atlanta, Richmond) while Hamlin has just one top 5 at Atlanta and only one win at his home track in Virginia. Expect one more win from Johnson to take the top seed, while Hamlin will coast into the Chase with five wins and a legit shot at dethroning the four-time champ.
Kyle Busch will finish with more wins than brother Kurt Busch
Kyle Busch is a threat to win in any series at any track, but with three races remaining and tied with brother Kurt at two wins apiece, both would sit fourth in points behind Johnson, Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. Each is looking to climb a little closer, and I do think one of these brothers will pick up ten more bonus points before regular season’s end, eating at eventual series leader Johnson and/or Hamlin’s point lead: Kurt Busch. Not only did he lead 129 laps and win at Atlanta in the spring, he led a race-high 278 laps and finished third at Bristol. Kyle Busch did win at Richmond, but the final race of the regular season may be a wacky one filled with differing pit strategies and other variables that could keep a dominant car from Victory Lane. I give the edge to big brother.
A winless Chase driver will win one of the final three races
The sudden reemergence of Roush Fenway Racing has made Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth the favorites to break out of the winless column this season. While Edwards in particular has finished consistently stronger by recording six consecutive top-10 finishes, if any RFR driver wins one of the final three races it’ll be the one who’s already won one – Greg Biffle. While he hasn’t been as consistent as Edwards he finished third at Indy, won at Pocono, was the fastest in practice at Watkins Glen and led the most laps at Michigan. Biffle’s also come from outside the Chase to a near lock in one month, leaving the No. 16 with all the momentum to make a serious charge here in the coming months.
The final Chase spot will be between Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer
With Biffle essentially locked into the eleventh pick, Bowyer and Martin are separated by 35 and Martin has a 68-point advantage over 14th-place Ryan Newman. Newman and 15th-place Jamie McMurray have had their moments this season, but neither will have the magic to put together three consecutive weekends strong enough to outlast both an RCR and a Hendrick team. While Bowyer reclaimed the 12th spot this weekend, I think Martin gets the position before the points reset at New Hampshire. The driver of the No. 5 hasn’t had the type of success he did a year ago, but he still does race for the best team in the garage, is teammates with the best two drivers, and has more experience than anyone in the garage. Plus, he may be considered a gentleman driver, but when the green flag waves in three weeks at Richmond, Martin will take no prisoners with a Chase berth on the line. He’ll make it in – book it.
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Martin and Bowyer could DNF at any of these races and open the door for one of the others. Both Martin and Bowyer have been inconsistent to a point where I don’t think either is favored. My sense is Hendrick has lost some mojo. Maybe the lackluster performance of the 5/88 has found its way into the 24/48 shop. Maybe 24/48 are sandbagging.
I don’t think Newman has a shot. McMurray has been winning the big ones, so why not a Bristol win. Maybe NASCAR will rig it so Martin, Bowyer, McMurray, Newman, and Kahne all suffer DNF’s while Junior clips off three top fives and saves the NASCAR season.
Bristol and Richmond in Johnson’s favor over Hamlin? Despite winning at Bristol this past spring, the #48 team doesn’t circle that one on their calendar as a gimme… and Hamlin’s bad luck is the only reason he doesn’t have another win or two at Richmond; the guy can dominate there.
Couple that with Hamlin being upset with second yesterday and Johnson saying his 12th place finish was great… well, I’d say Hamlin wants it more, and at a short track (especially one in Virginia!), that’s dangerous.
And although Burton, Stewart, Gordon, and Edwards haven’t won all season, I’d find it tough to bet against all of them even though Harvick, the Busches, and Hamlin probably have better chances the next three tracks.
Johnson would have to win two of the next three races in order to be the number 1 seed…while it’s always possible, I just don’t see that happening. Despite his win there in March, Bristol has never been among Johnson’s best tracks. Plus, you really can’t compare the two races, since that was the last race using the wing. Since then, Hendrick has slipped and JGR has climbed toward the top. We also have Atlanta, and Johnson himself said yesterday that he feels 1.5 and 2-mile tracks are their weakness right now. Combine that with Hamlin’s home-field advantage at Richmond and you have a rather weak argument that Johnson could somehow come out on top.
Kevin, how do you figure Johnson needs two more wins? He and Hamlin are tied with 5 wins apiece. One more win for either of them would give them 6 wins and break the tie, not two.
Also, Mike you sure painted yourself into a corner there. Johnson is going to win one of the next three races, Kurt Busch is going to win one of the next three races, and a winless Chase driver may or may not win one of the next three races.