NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: Early Title Favorites in 2011 – Is Carl Edwards Now Among Them?

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus can’t be beat in the current Chase format
FACT

With Jimmie Johnson’s come from behind fifth consecutive championship, the No. 48 team made a strong statement to its competition and NASCAR that under this current Chase configuration, they can’t be beat. Now, it’s up to the sanctioning body to decide if it is going to make a change to the current playoff format, something CEO Brian France strongly hinted is coming at a news conference Sunday. Let’s face it; this team has these 10 tracks figured out, and they showed that even when they’re against the ropes, they can fight back. In comparison, Denny Hamlin looked like a fighter who’d lost by decision in a 12-round fight.

It’s almost like Johnson lulled his competition into a false sense of security; when he opened the door one week ago and Hamlin failed to capitalize, it was over. It’s not like the target on Johnson’s back will be any larger next year, and it’s hard to imagine any team will carry more momentum through the Chase than Hamlin did this year. Even without running a flawless Chase, the No. 48 team came home champions again. And, it’s scary to say, but it’ll be difficult to stop them from number six next year.

Denny Hamlin will rebound and return to championship form in 2011
FICTION

Hamlin showed all throughout this year’s Chase that he could go toe-to-toe with the sport’s Goliath. But just like in other sports where the team that loses the championship game struggles the following year, you should temper your expectations if you think the No. 11 will be in this same position come 2011. Hamlin and Co. put plenty of sweat and tears into these final three races and by not getting it done, it’s only natural to expect some type of hangover. Every year, there is one driver that gets hot and makes a run… and while 2010 was Hamlin’s turn, next year it will be somebody else. There’s no doubt about it. Will he make the Chase? Certainly. But he won’t be back in this position until at least 2012.

Carl Edwards will be next year’s Denny Hamlin
FACT

It didn’t matter how long his winless streak was, Carl Edwards showed in his final two races that he could return to championship form next season. Prior to his final two wins, Edwards had finishes of 17th and 19th, hinting that those victories came even further out of left field than initially thought. Both those races came at two completely different types of tracks, too, one of which makes up the majority of the schedule: intermediates. Roush Fenway as a whole had been struggling for wins for much of the year, but Edwards was still able to break through and help build a foundation that can carry him from here to Daytona. Indeed, expect that momentum to carry over to next season, and anticipate another four or so victories and a top-five points finish by the end of the year.

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