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 points lead when the standings reset for the 10-race playoff. But while Hamlin has one more top five 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 10 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 five 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 Busch 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 10 more bonus points before regular season’s end, eating at eventual series leader Johnson and/or Hamlin’s points 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, Clint Bowyer and Mark 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.