Summer Bedgood · Monday September 23, 2013
Two races down, eight more to go. Though a lot can happen in eight races, all it takes is a couple of bad runs to effectively seal the coffin on some driver’s championship hopes.
Those two races, Chicago and Loudon, have created a clear picture of who the contenders and pretenders are, though it won’t take much to change the strongest contenders to completely irrelevant to the title fight.
After Loudon, Matt Kenseth has clearly established himself as a contender, though no one doubted that fact considering that Kenseth already had five wins heading into the Chase. After winning the first two, Kenseth may very well be lined up to win his second career Sprint Cup Series championship.
Meanwhile, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has finished second in both opening races, which puts him safely in second right behind Kenseth in the current points standings. He is only 14 points behind with these eight races remaining.
Finally, five time champion Jimmie Johnson has had two consecutive top five finishes to open the Chase, but the dynamic duo at JGR has him in the third position with an 18 point deficit from the leader.
From there, things get foggier and championship hopes start fading. The next closest contender is Carl Edwards, who is 36 points back which is getting close to a full race.
In fact, four Chase drivers are already more than a full race out of the points lead. It should be a solid assumption to say that Ryan Newman (-47), Clint Bowyer (-48), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-62), Joey Logano (-69), and Kasey Kahne (-71) will not be hoisting the championship trophy at season’s end.
So what got these drivers in the spot that they are?
First of all, Ryan Newman, after missing the Chase in Richmond, was granted a 12th spot in the Chase in place of Martin Truex Jr. after NASCAR determined that Michael Waltrip Racing had manipulated the race in Truex’s favor. Newman was hoping to take advantage of this second chance by starting the Chase out strong.
That wasn’t going to happen. Though Newman finished 10th at Chicago and won the pole at Loudon, his subsequent 16th place run was not enough to give Newman in a head start when he was already coming from behind.
Clint Bowyer, well, remember that controversy that got Newman in the Chase in the first place? Bowyer was in the middle of it, as you may recall, and morale was way down in the No. 15 camp by the time the green flag ever flew in Chicago.
Like Newman, Bowyer finished in the top 10 in Chicago, a ninth place run that gave the team what they thought was momentum. Again, though, akin to Newman, Bowyer finished 17th and both mediocre finishes were enough to move Bowyer back over an entire race for this season. For those who were worried Bowyer might win the championship amidst controversy, you can likely put that complaint to rest.
Unlike Bowyer and Newman, Earnhardt started off the Chase pretty rough with a 35th place run at Chicago because of an expired engine. A sixth place finish at Loudon was not enough of a recovery to get him back to where they needed to be and now it looks like any small chance they had at the title is likely gone.
Logano, who also suffered some controversy in Richmond can’t seem to maintain some consistency to save his life. Neither of his two Chase races were in the top 10 and he hasn’t finished better than 14th in the last three races.
Kasey Kahne, who hasn’t finished in the top 10 since Bristol, the semi-final regular season race, has struggled as of late and also has some issues with consistency. 2013 may very well wind up being a year he wishes to forget.
Though none of these drivers are mathematically eliminated, realistically they are finished in terms of a championship.
Everyone else? Well, it’s hard to say. Though Kenseth looks to be the strongest driver right now, let’s not forget that Busch and Johnson weren’t far behind in either race.
It should be a fun Chase for sure, but Lady Luck has already bitten several teams in the fight for this year’s championship.
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