*With One Race, Clint Bowyer Has Become A Chase Favorite*
OK, I’ll admit Clint Bowyer was not on my list of championship contenders in this column a week ago. I predicted that he’d have a good run at New Hampshire, but in this very space I claimed that he wouldn’t be able to maintain success through a full ten races. Well, folks, I’m changing my mind. With his maximum points gained Sunday in New Hampshire, Bowyer has jumped ten spots in the standings to second and is now only 35 behind series leader Denny Hamlin. Not only that, but the No. 33 has recorded four consecutive top 10s since _his_ unofficial playoff to make the Chase started one month ago. The fact is that this team has had to treat every race as do-or-die for the last 30 days, toughening them up for the postseason; and now that they do have that first win out of the way, Bowyer should make life very difficult for the likes of Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch. Every year, there is one driver who catches fire come Chase time… this one, it’s Clint Bowyer.
*Jimmie Johnson’s Golden Horseshoe is Gone*
Perhaps the biggest story out of New Hampshire wasn’t Bowyer’s surprisingly dominant win, or Tony Stewart’s heartbreaking finish, but the fact that Jimmie Johnson finished 25th and dropped to seventh in points. September is his time of the year and New Hampshire is his type of track… but don’t give up on him quite yet. His 92-point deficit is nothing compared to the 139 markers back he was in 2006 after New Hampshire, and keep in mind he swept both Dover events one year ago. Many may be rooting for the championship streak to be over, but given the No. 48 team’s history, one race is not enough to kick the champs to the curb.
*Your Biggest Chase Spoiler is Jamie McMurray*
I have long believed that if Jamie McMurray had snuck into the Chase playoff, he would’ve been a force to be reckoned with. Well, after one race, McMurray has backed me up — finishing third on Sunday. The No. 1 team has been hit or miss all season, but there is no denying that the team has stepped up when it counts. And guess what? The Chase races are among the biggest this season, no matter what the EGR driver says outside the car. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and the No. 42 team have said they are treating the final ten races and keeping track of points as if they’re in the Chase. If McMurray and Co. do the same, I predict they’d see what could have been a top-7 or top-8 season. I’m not ready to say this car could have been a championship contender, but one year from now I wouldn’t be surprised if they are.
*Tony Stewart’s Fuel Debacle Will Dictate His Chase*
As soon as Tony Stewart ran out of fuel approaching the white flag, and after realizing that Clint Bowyer was going to sneak out a well-deserved win, I immediately said to myself, “Stewart’s done.” Obviously, Smoke at that point had no shot at a Chase win, but after limping to a 24th-place finish and dropping to 11th in points I couldn’t help but think his Chase hopes are gone as well. Stewart traditionally heats up at this time of year, but still there was nothing that really screamed out to me “Champion.” More so now considering his hole, I find it almost impossible for Stewart to climb back into contention without a couple of victories, and I just don’t see the No. 14 winning multiple races anytime soon. If somebody is going to climb up from the back, it’ll be the reigning four-time champ Jimmie Johnson – not the second-year driver/owner Stewart.
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