By admin | October 3, 2011
By Richard Allen
Almost immediately after the first race in the Chase for the Championship playoff I wrote a piece stating my belief that Denny Hamlinâ€™s disastrous result in Chicago had all but eliminated him from contention for the Sprint Cup title. Since then, Hamlin has done nothing to dissuade my opinion.
After the third of ten Chase races it appears as though Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Ryan Newman have added their names to the list of those who have no realistic chance of claiming a title.
Newman began his Chase run in solid fashion with an 8th place finish in Chicago but things have gone down hill since. In New Hampshire, he managed only a 25th place result after starting the race from the pole. This past weekend in Dover, Newman came home in 23rd after an uninspiring outing.
Newman is now 41 points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. The problem with such a deficit is twofold. First, with the new points system he is now essentially a full race out of the lead with only seven events remaining on the schedule. And second, any movement toward the top of the leader board would require Newman to jump over ten other drivers, most of whom have been running much better than he has all season.
At the beginning of the Chase, Tony Stewart, co-owner of Newmanâ€™s Stewart-Haas Racing team, declared that his organization was merely taking up space in the Chase. While Stewart himself has surprised with his two early wins in the playoff, Newmanâ€™s #39 team has mostly lived down to expectations.
Earnhardt was another driver who came into the Chase with little expectation of actually contending for the Sprint Cup. Essentially the winless driver proved to be among the best of the mediocre, like Stewart and Newman, in qualifying for the playoff.
And like Newman, Junior started the Chase off in fine form with a 3rd place effort in Chicago. However, he has not been able to find the top-10 in the two most recent races. In New Hampshire, the popular driver struggled to a lackluster 17th pace finish.
The race in Dover proved to offer up one misfortune after another. Junior experienced trouble virtually from the beginning when a front sway bar came unhooked which caused him to lose ground. Later, his Hendrick Motorsports team attempted to use the wave around rule to their advantage and recover a lost lap. The result was an out of sequence pit stop that eventually cost him even more time on the track. Ultimately, the #88 finished in 24th on the high banked concrete track.
The main reason Junior has essentially no chance to comeback from his 34 point deficit is that he has not demonstrated the strength to go on the type of roll necessary to recover. Consider that this driver has not led a single lap since the August race in Indianapolis and the point is made about his teamâ€™s lack of strength.
Coming into the 2011 Chase for the Championship, few if any regarded Ryan Newman or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to be serious title contenders. Each has failed to maintain the momentum of their fleeting first playoff race success. Like Denny Hamlin, both of these drivers will have to settle for the satisfaction of making the Chase, but little else.
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