By admin | September 19, 2011
By Richard Allen
Of the ten drivers to earn their way into the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship this season via the non-wildcard route, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were the last to be locked in. To be honest, both drivers struggled to make it with less than spectacular races to the cutoff and were assisted by the fact that none of their potential challengers was able to make a serious run toward the top-10.
It might have seemed as though both drivers were doing little more than filling spots in the Chase without a real chance to win the title.
However, Mondayâ€™s race at the Chicagoland Speedway proved that these two drivers and their teams do indeed have some life in them. Stewart earned his first win of the 2011 season when he beat the field to the checkered flag in the first playoff race. Not far behind, Junior rolled across the finish line with a 3rd place effort that proved to be his first top-5 result in fourteen weeks.
Before the many fans of these two drivers get overly excited, consider that the race ended with a fuel mileage stretch to the finish. Such races tend to often punish drivers who may have actually had the strongest cars during the day while rewarding those who may have run closer to the middle of the pack but happened to coast further than everyone else on the last drops of fuel in the tank.
In other words, fuel mileage races may not offer a true indication of strength of a race team.
So, Stewart and Junior canâ€™t be considered real threats to win the championship, can they? Well, donâ€™t count them, or anyone else, out even if the race was a fuel mileage stretch. Or rather, perhaps these two should actually be thought of as more of a serious threat because of the way the Chicago race ended.
Consider how many races this season have played out in the same manner as the Monday event. Seemingly, every week finds crew chiefs urging drivers to â€œsave, save, saveâ€ in the final laps.
It would seem as though having the strongest car doesnâ€™t matter nearly as much as being able to squeeze out the best gas mileage. Stewart and Earnhardt proved they have the new â€˜what it takes to winâ€™ factor going for them.
So donâ€™t let the fact that these two drivers barely eked their way into the Chase remove them from contention. And it doesnâ€™t matter that they have only one win and eight top-5s between them all season. Either one can win this championship as long as they can keep gas in the tank at the end of the day.
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