By admin | July 20, 2010
By Richard Allen
With the Sprint Cup Series coming off of an open date weekend and heading into one of its biggest races of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the points standings for the purpose of guessing what twelve drivers will compete for the championship.
The Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis will be the 20th race of 2010. The 26th race in Richmond marks the cutoff point for the Chase for the Championship, after which the race to the title will be on.
As I look at the current standings, I see very few drivers who I would consider in danger of falling out of the top-12. At the same time, I see few drivers outside the top-12 who I would consider a serious threat to break into the playoff picture.
I consider the current top-6 of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and the Busch brothers as virtual locks at this point. Those six drivers and teams have been front runners virtually all year and show no signs of letting up as the season progresses.
I believe that no matter who actually qualifies for the twelve Chase spots, the ultimate winner will come from those six drivers. The other six are simply vying for the right to say they made the Chase in 2010.
Of the next six, it would be quite a surprise if Jeff Burton were to fall from the top-12. His knack for consistency and typical ability to stay out of trouble should assure him of a place in the Chase.
Even though Tony Stewart has not yet won a race, he is still well positioned to make the playoff from his current 9th place. This is his time of year so look for him to move ahead rather than back.
Carl Edwards could be a bit of a wildcard in the playoff mix. He is far from being assured of a place in the Chase from his current 10th place and a couple of well timed paybacks by Brad Keselowski would really hurt his chances. By no means would I count Edwards as a certainty to make the Chase from here, but in the end I do think he will slide in as his team has begun to show signs of life in an otherwise dismal year for Ford campaigners.
Greg Biffle has scored a very respectable ten top-10s this year, but he has also had some poor results as well. And just like Edwards, he drives a Ford and those cars have offered very little to get excited about in 2010. However, I also believe Biffle will just make the cutoff in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer has not managed quite the same consistency as his Richard Childress Racing teammates Harvick and Burton but he has placed in the top-10 more than Burton and just three less than Harvick. Look for this driver to move forward over the next seven races.
The only driver inside the top-12 at this point who I believe will fall out is Matt Kenseth. He got off to a pretty good start this season with eight top-10s in the first thirteen races. Since that 13th race in Charlotte this team, led by multiple crew chiefs, has been in the midst of a downhill slide. In the last six races the #17 has failed to record a top-10. And to be perfectly honest, their last performance in Chicago offers very little hope for the future. Even Kenseth himself seemed very dismayed and doubtful in interviews conducted during that weekend.
So, if one driver is going to fall out, who will take his place? Again being honest, I am not overly confident in any of those close enough to the top-12 to be considered legitimate contenders.
Mark Martinâ€™s team gives off the feel of a group looking into the future rather than focusing on the moment. With it already having been announced that Kasey Kahne is coming to this team in 2012, it is only human nature to view the guy currently sitting in the seat as a lame duck. I do not think Martin will make it as the rumors about his and his teamâ€™s future will only intensify going forward.
David Reutimann pulled off a nice win in Chicago and looks to have momentum, but with a previous high finish of 16th in the standings this is uncharted territory for this driver and team.
Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano have all shown flashes of greatness this season but each has lacked the consistency needed to make a run. Of those, Kahne looks to be the biggest threat having had four top-10s in his last five races. However, much like Martin, he is a lame duck and even though everyone always says they want to leave on a high note in these type situations, it rarely happens.
That leaves one driver who is close enough to the top-12 who could conceivably take Kensethâ€™s spot. That driver,by process of elimination, is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
A few weeks ago I would have never believed I would be saying Junior will make the Chase in 2010 and Iâ€™m still not really believing Iâ€™m saying it now. However, he and his team have come to life in the past few weeks. Until the Chicago race they had strung together four straight top-11 finishes. Perhaps that was an anomaly or perhaps things have finally begun to click between the driver and crew chief Lance McGrew. Either way, Junior fans should not take this as a ringing endorsement but rather as a statement on my part that Junior is the one contender with the least baggage going into the next seven races.
So there it is. The way I see it there will be very little turnover in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings between now and Chase for the Championship cutoff time. And as I said earlier, it makes little difference who the top-12 are, the champion will come from the current top-6 drivers. The rest are just looking to add a little something to their resume.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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