By admin | September 8, 2009
By Richard Allen
Nobody thought Carl Edwards would be in this position. Matt Kenseth is not supposed to be in this position. Mark Martin and Kyle Busch shouldn’t be in this position. Brian Vickers and Juan Pablo Montoya have never been in this position.
The position in question is on the bubble for making the NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
For the drivers in 5th through 14th of the Sprint Cup standings the Chase, NASCAR’s version of a title playoff, begins this weekend in Richmond, Virginia. In reality, this week’s race actually serves as the cutoff point for choosing the twelve drivers who will qualify for the championship run. However, for the ten drivers in the positions mentioned, the Chase is already on.
Carl Edwards, who currently sits in 5th, is 122 points ahead of Kyle Busch who currently ranks 14th. The maximum number of points that can be gained over the course of one race is 161. That number represents the difference between winning the race while receiving the bonuses for leading a lap and leading the most laps versus finishing 43rd and leading no laps. So, anyone within the top-14 could be one of the twelve to make it and anyone within the top-14 could be among those who do not make it.
At the end of last season Edwards made a strong run by winning the most races and finishing a strong 2nd to champion Jimmie Johnson. The back flipping driver was on almost everyone’s preseason list to make the Chase and on many lists to win the title outright. Now, he comes into Saturday’s cutoff race facing the possibility of not making it at all.
Kenseth is known as ‘Mr. Consistency’. He and Johnson are the only two drivers to have made the chase in each of the system’s years of existence. After winning the season’s first two races he seemed a shoe-in to make the playoff easily. However, now in 12th he clings to championship life.
Martin and Busch lead the series with four wins each. Two drivers who have had such strong runs could never find themselves on the Chase bubble with one race remaining, could they? The irony is that with the bonus system in place these two will vault to the top of the standings, if they make it.
Neither Brian Vickers nor Juan Pablo Montoya has ever qualified for the Chase. Yet, they each find themselves in position to race for a title if they can get through Richmond ahead of two of the other bubble drivers. Both drivers are coming to Richmond with momentum on their side.
Along with the six drivers mentioned, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle will fight for a place in the playoff on Saturday night.
Like the Chase or not, this is the kind of drama the system was designed to create. Eight of the ten drivers in positions 5 through 14 will make and two will not. The eight who make it will have dreams of championship glory. The two who do not will join a host of others in the nightmare of 2009 obscurity.
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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