By admin | September 9, 2008
By Richard Allen
The time for the Chase for the Championship has finally come. The field of twelve has been chosen and the champion will be decided over the next ten races.
Here are some thoughts about each of the twelve drivers and my prediction to win the title:
Kyle Busch(5080 points)- The obvious advantage Busch has going into the Chase is that he is starting with a nice lead. And, winning so many races to this point means that he has run well throughout the season.
However, two second place finishes in a row to Carl Edwards at Michigan and Bristol seems to have caused him to lose his rhythm to a degree. He also has to be concerned that some drivers who he has had run ins with earlier in the season may have been saving their grudges for the last ten races.
With his lead, if he gets off to a hot start it could be over early.
Carl Edwards(5050 points)- Edwards could be 10 points closer to Busch had it not been for a post race infraction found after his win in Las Vegas.
If the last few races are any indication, and they probably are, Edwards has been one of the hottest drivers of late. He has won three of the last six races. Also, there are some tracks within the Chase which Roush Fenway Racing should do well on.
Edwards seems to be one of the few, if not the only, drivers to be able to “rattle Kyle Busch’s cage” a bit. If that is true it could bode well for more back flips.
Jimmie Johnson(5040 points)- If Edwards is not the hottest driver going into the Chase then it is definitely Jimmie Johnson. He has won the last two races and one of them, California, was in dominating fashion.
The two time defending champion and his team will not fade away easily. Johnson has finished inside the Top 5 in the championship standings every year of his career and with the way he is running right now there is no reason to believe that trend will not continue.
Hendrick Motorsports has had to listen to the talk that Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have passed them by. This Chad Knaus led team may be waiting in the wings to prove they are still on the top of the heap.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.(5010 points)- Junior’s season has been highlighted by his win in Michigan back in June. However, his year may not have quite measured up to what many thought it would be when he signed with Hendrick Motorsports. The Chase may provide the opportunity to prove that both he and the organization were right in making the off season moves they made.
The thing that has to be considered in accessing Junior’s shot at a title is that both driver and team have made crucial mistakes during the season that have cost them good finishes if not wins. Starting in a hole of sorts, not even one of those mistakes can be afforded to the #88 team.
Clint Bowyer(5010 points)- Bowyer surprised many in 2007 by not only qualifying for the Chase but remaining in the title hunt for much of the playoff.
Drivers starting this far back will have to be more than just consistent. Those who are 70 or 80 points back will have to win races to make up ground.
Bowyer has shown the ability to be consistent but he has not given the appearance of a race winner week after week. Even in his one win in Richmond he had what was perhaps a 4th or 5th place car. He was able to win that race by allowing others to eliminate themselves. It is unlikely that such good fortune will be found over the next ten races.
Denny Hamlin(5010 points)- Hamlin may have had the most misfortune of any driver within the Chase. He has looked to be on his way to a win on more than one occasion this season only to have some gremlin ruin his chances.
If his bad luck demons have been exorcised he could be the one of these drivers not in the Top 3 to make a run at the Chase.
Also, rumor has it Toyota has been saving some extra horsepower that they are going to bring out during the playoff. If that is true this could be another Chase in which multiple drivers from one organization will leave everyone else behind.
Jeff Burton(5010 points)- Burton finds himself in much the same situation as his Richard Childress Racing teammate, Bowyer. He has had good, solid runs all season long but has not shown the ability to win enough races to move up in the standings.
Much like Bowyer, his one win in Bristol came at the expense of others who had troubles. He will have to find victory lane to have any shot at a title.
Tony Stewart(5000 points)- Stewart showed at the end of the last race in Richmond that he still has that fire inside him it takes to be a winner. And, with this being his last season with Joe Gibbs Racing, he would no doubt love to go out a champion.
However, something that has to be considered is that he is on his way out at JGR. They may not say it publicly but the Gibbs folks would probably prefer that if they have a champion it be one of the drivers who will be back with them in 2009.
If the rumors are true about Toyota’s extra horsepower, it may be Stewart who finds himself as the guinea pig to test it out first. That could be good, or it could be bad.
Greg Biffle(5000 points)- Of the drivers with no wins to have made the Chase Biffle may have the most ability to break out and win a couple of races over the course of the playoff.
Some of the tracks coming up favor him and the Roush Fenway Racing package. He will have to win to make up ground on Busch and the others.
One of these drivers who has not yet won must get off to a good start to be a contender. Biffle could be that driver.
Jeff Gordon(5000 points)- This is the deepest into a season since his first win that Gordon has gone without a victory.
His season has been marred by uncharacteristic inconsistency. He and his team seem to have really struggled with getting a hold on the Car of Tomorrow.
He will have to show marked improvement to be a factor in the Chase. This format has cost him two titles in the past. Maybe this will be the year he gets one of those back.
Kevin Harvick(5000 points)- Harvick has posted 7 consecutive Top 10s. Like all the other drivers starting so far behind he will have to convert those good finishes into great finishes.
He and his team seem to have a confidence about them that may propel them near the top of the final standings, especially if they can win some races.
Matt Kenseth(5000 points)- He and Johnson are the only two drivers to have made the Chase in each of the format’s first five years.
Going into the Darlington race in May, he was in 22nd place of the standings and appeared to have no chance of getting to the Top 12. Like his RFR teammates, Biffle and Edwards, there are tracks coming up in which he could do well, but like everyone else without a win to this point, he has to have victories to be a factor.
Prediction to win the 2008 Chase for the Championship: Carl Edwards
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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