After watching Greg Biffle put a hurtin’ on the field at both Loudon and Dover, that got me thinking: How has the top Chase finisher in each season’s first two playoff events fared in the final standings? It’s been widely reported since Biffle’s New Hampshire triumph that Kurt Busch, in 2004, is the only driver to win the first Chase race and go on to win the Cup. However, had any driver claimed top fives in the first two events (sans a win at Loudon, of course) and still gone on to take the big prize?
So, I did a little research and compiled a highly trivial list of the only top-five playoff finishers at both Loudon and Dover – and how each fared in the final rundown. Here’s what I found:
- As mentioned, Busch in 2004 is the only driver to win the first Chase race and the Cup in the same year. Kurt also finished fifth at Dover, making him the only guy to have parlayed two initial top fives into a championship.
- Ryan Newman won Loudon in 2005 and followed that up with a fifth at Dover – the same exact start as Busch. However, Newman sputtered down the stretch that year, slumping to sixth in the final standings – 174 points behind eventual champ Tony Stewart.
- Mr. Four-Timer, Jeff Gordon, finished third in the first two Chase events in 2006, the only man to record top-five finishes at both venues. He stumbled badly in the next three races, though, and also faded to a sixth-place showing.
- Last season, Kyle Busch (not Gordon or Jimmie Johnson) was the only man to claim top fives in the first two Chase races (fourth and fifth). The lame-duck Busch followed that up with four more finishes of eighth or better – as well as four of 20th or worse the rest of the way. He finished fifth in the standings, a whopping 430 points behind Hendrick teammate Johnson.
And that brings us to 2008. As we all know, Biffle has become the only man to win the postseason’s first two races. Unfortunately for him – and bucking a trend – he also has two pilots hot on his heels, as Johnson (second and fifth) and Carl Edwards (two third-place finishes) are also keeping pace. They’re doing so well, in fact, Biffle doesn’t even own the points lead yet – he remains 10 back of Edwards while tied for second with Johnson. Biffle does, however, have momentum and confidence on his side.
What does this tell us? Well, not a whole lot, except for the fact that a hot start doesn’t guarantee a good finish. Of course, further research will tell you that, aside from last season when Johnson went all Harry Gant on us, consistency down the stretch – not wins – has proven to be the way to a title.
Advantage Biffle? Not just yet.
OK, let’s get to your submissions.
Q: Has there been any further information in regards to Clint Bowyer‘s move next year to the No. 33 car – leaving Gil Martin behind to continue working with the No. 07 and Casey Mears? Clint and Gil (and the rest of the No. 07 team) seem to have a good thing going, and it doesn’t make sense to break that up… especially the driver/crew chief team. Thanks! – Lori S.
A: According to Richard Childress, those details are still being worked out, and an inquiry made to Bowyer’s PR rep proved nothing to the contrary, Lori. Seems to me (and this is just me) that if, in fact, Childress is not able to buy the owner points from another car – think DEI’s No. 01 – he’d be wise to not break up Bowyer’s crew. I figure Mears will perform about the same next year as he has at Hendrick, which means he won’t be a contender – so what’s the difference what team he has behind him? And every little bit of cohesion and continuity the No. 33 team has on Fridays will come in handy in the absence of a guaranteed spot.
Q: It’s good to see NASCAR join the 21st century with their new drug policy. My question, and one that I’ve seen many ask, is what’s up with the lack of a banned substances list? How are we as fans or the competitors, crewmen, and officials expected to take this seriously if no one knows what is and is not illegal? – Tommy
A: Well, I can tell you that those being tested will take it seriously; they’ll do so or risk public shame and the potential loss of their job. But your concern over the fact that no one even knows what NASCAR is testing for is legit. In case you missed it, the staff discussed this very topic in our weekly Mirror Driving feature yesterday.
Personally, I’m not sure how those being tested are expected to deal with this. Will three straight nights of Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom Nighttime – which contains Acetaminophen, a decongestant, an antihistamine and a cough suppressant – show up as positive? And exactly how much can you take before it’s constituted as “abuse?”
Look, we all know the “recreational” drugs are a no-no – that pot, coke, heroin and their “high”-brow brethren are off limits. But will an alcoholic bender on Thursday night show up as abuse in a test? What about a pot of coffee on Friday morning? Is caffeine on the list that does not exist? The point is, NASCAR has once again failed to draw a clear picture of the parameters, and will dictate as they see fit – the famed “Gray Area” – in doling out penalties and suspensions. And that – when you consider how close they came to getting this one spot-on right – is a real shame.
Q: AJ Allmendinger got the axe at Red Bull. What’s the chance that Scott Speed gets in [the No. 84] before the season is over? Speed is going to be one of the next big things. Move over Gordon, Johnson, and Stewart – you don’t know what’s coming! – Pam Arnold
A: According to Team Red Bull, Allmendinger is in for Kansas, but beyond that it’s unclear – and we’ve seen how this usually plays out. I could see a series of driver swaps over the next month that place Speed and Mike Skinner in the No. 84, a move which also clears Allmendinger for a jump to the No. 41. That, in turn, precipitates Reed Sorenson jumping to the No. 10 and Patrick Carpentier – try this one on for size – moving into the Woods’ No. 21. God knows they need a qualifier, and he’s proven to be that. Plus, they need a guy looking to make a mark – not collect a paycheck.
And I like your take on Speed. He’ll bring a lot to the Cup Series once he’s settled in. But please, Scott… no streaking down pit road! I’m still getting last week’s Stewart/ravioli/whitey tighty image out of my head.
OK, that’s all for this week. Here’s to the driver who actually crosses the finish line first at Kansas being credited with the win this Sunday.