Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Everybody Loves a Mystery – Who is Going to Win NASCAR’s Sprint Cup in 2011?

This is gonna be fun. For the first time since the inception of the Chase format, I am actually looking forward to the final 10 races of the season. Why, you ask? Well, can you tell me who is gonna win the whole shebang? No? Neither can I, and that is a beautiful thing.

Despite the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Jeff Gordon fan, it is not required that JG receive a fifth Cup at the end of the 2011 season. I’m OK with his 85 wins. It’s awesome that he starts the Chase seeded third, but after all is said and done, I don’t need him to do more. But with momentum driving that No. 24 like a runaway train, it is downright thrilling to consider the possibility that one of the old guys in this sport just might take the rug out from under his protégé, Jimmie Johnson.

Next on the “anything can happen” parade resides Kyle Busch, the driver we all love to hate. Much as the boos resonate through the track when he takes his bow on the frontstretch, you can’t deny his talent. Yes, he’s moody and sometimes snooty, but as time takes its toll on his wild and reckless youth, I am spying glimmers of a better Kyle amidst all the negative coverage.

I’m not sold on whether a Cup would be good for the morale of NASCAR or Kyle’s ego. However, if that candy-colored No. 18 spends the next 10 races near the lead, you can be guaranteed of fireworks on the track, and off. Nothing gets the younger Busch’s ire up more than not quite winning—good stuff, that.

Now, who else do we have in the offing? Oh, yes. Happy Kevin Harvick in his black Budmobile. While his RCR teammates have struggled and his Nationwide Series team is vanishing before our very eyes, the No. 29 has continued to set the pace for the Cup field through the year. Not always right there at the top, but notching four wins is definitely a way to keep this team on your radar when setting the grid for the final showdown.

Harvick has always been willing to squeeze a competitor out in order to gain a win. If he decides to trade paint with Kyle Busch, or even better, the elder Busch, the stands will surge to their feet.

Speaking of… Kurt Busch. Remember a time when he was despised nearly as much as Kyle? I do. There wasn’t a week when his mouth didn’t run off without his brain, and usually his car backed it up. He did win a Cup… hey, wait! If there’s been one person’s radio chatter we just couldn’t turn off this year, it’s been that of the yellow No. 22. Who’s driving? Kurt Busch. Who couldn’t stop turning the No. 48 around, just cause…Well, hell! Didn’t you see what Jimmie did to him?

Granted, this equation of beating on your team, wrecking every car in sight and spitting enough foul words into your mic to permanently seal a censor’s finger to the beep button doesn’t create a positive working environment. But, perhaps it’ll somehow force the powers that be into coughing up another Cup for Kurt. Maybe? OK, maybe not. But it’s still fun to listen while he gets all excited hoping.

So, back into the real possibilities of the Chase. Is Carl Edwards poised to execute a double backflip? While the No. 99 has been consistent this year, I’m still not feeling it for Cousin Carl. I could crunch numbers for a bit and decide he’s perfectly capable and just as likely to dethrone Mr. Five-time, but I’m just not believing it right now. Do I like surprises? Sure! Bring it on, Carl. Let me be dazzled all over again, just like the first time you flipped off the back of that No. 99 truck. I’m game.

I’ll give the quiet nod to Johnson and Matt Kenseth, as they’re in this sprint to the finish, too. However, we aren’t going to see anything really dramatic from either the No. 48 or No. 17 in the closing weeks. It’s time for Chad Knaus to put on his serious-money hat and for the No. 17 to just quietly do what it’s been doing. I’ll call them field fillers. You know they’re in it, they know they’re in it and really don’t have a whole lot to prove to anybody. Yes, thanks for the Cup. So glad I came. Yawn.

But sitting in the back of the standings we have a spoiler. Insert evil laugh. Somebody who isn’t supposed to be there. Someone who I was a bit disappointed with earlier in the year.

Look, when there’s a rookie field worth looking at in any given year, I pick “my rookie.” It’s an illustrious collection — Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kenseth, Edwards, Denny Hamlin… yep, I’ve got the t-shirts to prove it. Last year I bought a Brad Keselowski t-shirt. He moved into the storied Blue Deuce for 2011, a sure sign that Roger Penske saw the brilliance I saw in this kid. And then, well, it just wasn’t happening. Not like it was supposed to. No wins — heck, he had trouble keeping the leaders in view for the first half of the year — until he drove the No. 2 into the wall at Road Atlanta.

I don’t know if the impact shook something loose or put something back where it belongs, but there’s no denying that Keselowski’s team is suddenly doing everything it needs to in order to contend for a championship. Then, to top it all off, BK has not been making a whole lot of friends in the Cup garage. Will he wreck someone? Retaliate? Push the envelope, even if the kid hasn’t earned his spot in the field? Is willing to talk smack with the best of them? Answer: yes.

Is it possible, even remotely, that Keselowski might be the one raising the Cup over his head at Homestead? Yep, and ain’t that really cool? The stands will be jumping with fans cheering and jeering.

So, who will it be? I don’t know. I really can’t tell! A veteran? New dad? Fresh Fish? Little Brother? Big Bro? Who thinks they can take it? All of them. And that will result in one of the best championship seasons we’ve witnessed in years.

So, stock up the fridge and clear your calendars for the fall. Raise your glasses. We’ve got some serious racing ahead! Here’s hoping for a thrilling and unexpected conclusion in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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