*Your championship sleeper is officially Carl Edwards*
Every year there is that one driver who is the popular sleeper pick heading into the final ten races. Without a doubt that driver this year is Carl Edwards. He may be winless on the season, but don’t let that fool you. After barely holding onto that final 12th position heading to Daytona in July, all Edwards and the No. 99 team has done is reel off seven top 10s in the next eight races with a worst finish of 12th. Over that stretch Edwards has five top 5 finishes, including a second place run this weekend in Atlanta. The upcoming schedule solidifies Edwards’ status as a sleeper even more. As we saw in 2008, the Chase schedule favors the No. 99 team much as it does 4-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and if they can run at the cookie-cutters much like they did prior to 2009 they just may have a shot.
*Atlanta proved Sunday night why it deserves two dates*
Sure the 2011 schedule has already come out and Atlanta will indeed have just the one Labor Day date, but fans were shown again Sunday night why Atlanta is one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit. It may have long green flag runs (what track doesn’t?), but as soon as the tires go it puts the race in the driver’s hands, something a lot of the cookie-cutters don’t, and the multi-groove surface adds a dimension of excitement you just don’t see every week. Each restart last night was incredible and all the way down to the closing laps you had no idea who was going to win. ESPN deserves an A+ as well for showing the competition throughout the field, including the Chase bubble drivers Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman. The racing was there, now if only we can get some butts in those seats we could see two races in Atlanta again in the future.
*The top 12 drivers will remain the same following Richmond*
Jamie McMurray needed a good run in Atlanta to reel in Clint Bowyer for the final Chase spot, but after recovering from a lap down in the final portion of the race, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion couldn’t pull off a good enough run to position himself for a shot at the Sprint Cup too. McMurray’s 15th place finish and Clint Bowyer’s subsequent clutch seventh place run widens the gap to 117 points between the 12th and 13th positions in points and given Bowyer’s history at Richmond, it should be a wrap. In nine career starts at the short track, Bowyer has four top 10s and a win, and with that kind of margin he can afford to play it conservative. Unless he breaks, McMurray’s chances are slim at best, and even then the No. 1 team needs to lead laps and compete for a win. I’m not saying it can’t happen…I’m just saying it won’t.
*The new rumored Chase format will “fix” the Chase*
As rumored on Jayski this weekend there are two possible changes to the Chase format, both of which include 16 drivers starting the Chase with the field gradually being eliminated and points reset leading up to the series finale. The points will be reset before the final race, but the only question is whether two drivers or four will compete for the championship at Homestead. Brian France’s vision is to create excitement equivalent of a Game 7, but as we’ve seen in recent history any time the sanctioning body tries to copy the stick and ball sports, it’s backfired (i.e. any format of the Chase.) This is just another way for the series to drum up excitement, but again diehard fans and drivers will be left disappointed. What the drivers want, and what the majority of fans want is the ability to crown a champion based on a full season of work. That’s one of the reasons the original Chase never caught on and that’s why the new one won’t either.