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Chase assessment: Junior will be in and Kenseth will be out

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 Martin’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 team’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 Kenseth’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 I’m still not really believing I’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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9 Responses to “Chase assessment: Junior will be in and Kenseth will be out”

  1. gary Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I can’t believe the staying power of number 88. He is an also ran at best yet still has his legions of followers that will not give up. Proving how much people follow their hearts instead of their head.

  2. Justin Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Come on Gary, an also ran? As a Junior fan, I dont expect Jr will ever win a Championship, but who died and gave you the power of telling me who I am allowed to cheer for??? We arent talking about Sam Hornish Jr, 29th in the standing, we are talking about Dale Jr, 13th in the standings. His stats mirror those of Kurt Busch, and Matt Kenseth for example, over their careers, and no one says that those 2 drivers are also rans…….

  3. T.L. Headley Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Okay “Gary,” I suppose you are one of those “fair weather fans” who cheer for whoever is winning at the moment in order to add a little sense of being a “winner” to an otherwise pathetic little life.
    Yes, I am being a bit harsh, but ask me if I care?
    I really can’t stand “fans” like you! You make me want to hurl chunks! Do the real NASCAR fan a favor and turn the channel to the F1 race where there are more folks like you.
    Yes, I am an Earnhardt fan! I was a fan of his dad and I am a fan of Dale Jr. Will he win seven championships and 80 races? I doubt it, but I remain confident he will win at least one championship and finish his career with around 40 wins — an excellent career by any estimate. He is half way there already with two Nationwide championships to boot.
    Beyond that, I am a fan because of who he is — his character — and not because he is the “flavor of the moment.”
    So, once again, I say, take your latte and your “flag of the moment” and head on back to the pretty boys at F1. Or get your head out of rear end and learn a little about NASCAR, about history and about character.

  4. Bill B Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I’m not an Earnhardt fan and I am not anti-Earnhardt either. I do like the guy but don’t think he is on of the top 10 drivers on the circuit. Still, I think Richard’s conclusion is as valid as any other given the current standings. Jr has as much chance to get into the chase as anyone esle from 10th-15th at this moment so I think it’s inaccurate to and unfair to credit his conclusion to being a Jr fan.

  5. Richard Allen Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    If anyone thinks I’m a Junior fan then I must be doing a good job of showing objectivity.

  6. Overra88ted Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Nobody has gotten more top 10 finishes as a result of late race multi-car crahes than Dale Jr.

  7. Mark Says:
    July 22nd, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Jr the most OVERRATED driver in Nascar history!!!!!! and if anybody thinks that the Nationwide series race at Daytona wasn’t fixed,then your NUTTS!!!! He is a top 20 driver at BEST!!! All the Jr fans know it but wont admit it!!!!

  8. Justin Says:
    July 23rd, 2010 at 8:10 am

    # Mark Says:
    July 22nd, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Jr the most OVERRATED driver in Nascar history!!!!!! and if anybody thinks that the Nationwide series race at Daytona wasn’t fixed,then your NUTTS!!!! He is a top 20 driver at BEST!!! All the Jr fans know it but wont admit it!!!!

    If the race was indeed fixed at Daytona, you are going to need to answer a few questions that pop up in my mind……
    1) How did NASCAR prevent Jr from getting caught up in another cars wreck? (ie: anothr car blows a tire and wrecks him)

    2) How did they prevent Jr from possibly blowing a tire, or blowing an engine, or breaking an axle, or having electrical problems…..?

    3) If NASCAR can fix races, how come Jr doesnt win in the Sprint Cup Series? Jr is their “baby” right? He is the guy that puts fans in the stands. Dont you think the legion of Jr fans would rather see him win 6-8 races a year, and compete for Championships in the SC Series???

    I figure, if NASCAR has the power and ability to put Jr in Victor Lane, they would use that power a hell of a lot more often, and not just in the Nationwide Series. Where was that power in Daytona back in Feb when Jr rolled his car a few times……guess NASCAR didnt want him to win that right?

    You might want to re-evaluate who is NUTTS!!!! side note, there is a difference between “your” and “you’re”

  9. Mark Says:
    July 23rd, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Lets see 6 laps to go at daytona, jr leading, 4 cup regulars behind him who have nothing to lose by trying to pass the “3″ car that Nascar needs to win that race!! Now You tell me who is NUTTS!!! Wake up jr fans and just admit it!!!! King Fraud of Nascar!!! 1 win in 172 races!!! face it he is just another avg racer!!!