Chase race tightens
With four races remaining in the 2006 season, we are no closer to determining a champion as we were at Daytona in February.
Only 171 points separate Matt Kenseth sitting in the points lead and Kyle Busch in tenth. Beyond that, only 99 points separate the leader and Kasey Kahne in eighth spot.
How many points can be made up in four races? After the Dover race, four races ago, Kasey Kahne was 182 points from the leader; he is now only 99 points out. On the other hand, Jeff Gordon was lost 135 points in that same span. The point being, any of the drivers competing the in the chase can win the championship.
Last week after Martinsville, nine of the 10 positions changed. Only Kasey Kahne remained in the spot after the race as he held entering the race, although he gained 61 points on the leader. At this point, it is not so much what position a driver is in; it is only the separation of points that matter.
With three intermediate tracks remaining, Kahne will make a huge push, but I am sticking with my original pick of Kevin Harvick to walk away with the cup leaving Miami. If Harvick pulls it off, he will become the first driver win both the Cup and Busch championships in the same season.
Ward Burton made a return to the track last week at Martinsville after a two-year absence. If there were any doubt that this guy should be driving a cup car, the fan reaction and his performance should have erased them. No doubt that being in Virginia played a huge part in the overwhelming positive reaction of the fans, but I think the response would have been similar at any track.
Ward is still looking for a ride and Larry McClure is looking
for a driver for his no. 4 car. Makes sense, huh? Ward will be back in the car at Texas and my bet is he will be announced as the full season driver for that car in 2007. That would be a welcome addition, in my book.
In other driver news, Team Red Bull formally announced that A.J. Allmendinger, another former open wheel driver,
will drive that team’s second entry, the #84 car, next season. You could see the wheels turning on this move a few weeks ago when Allmendinger drove in a few truck races. Brian Vickers was announced months ago to drive the team’s other car, #83.
After David Ragan’s performance at Martinsville, do you think Jack Roush is having second thoughts about putting him in the #6 car next season? If he were to ask the other 42 competitors, I am sure the answer would be let him season a little more. Tony Stewart had a classic line after the Martinsville race where Ragan was involved in at least three wrecks. Stewart said Ragan was like a dart with no feathers. That’s classic.
The 33rd and next stop on the schedule is Atlanta, the fastest track on the circuit. If all the other races during the chase are any indication, there will be another shakeup among the top-ten as the checkered flag waves.
Look for Kasey Kahne, the spring race winner at Atlanta, to be very strong Sunday afternoon. A non-chase driver that could have a strong showing is Bobby Labonte, the leader among active drivers with six career wins at Atlanta. Labonte has been on somewhat of a hot streak recently, posting four top tens in the last five races and two top-fives in a row.
However, my pick to win this week is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Junior is a former winner at Atlanta and his performance on the mile and a half tracks has improved tremendously this season.
Whoever wins the race, one thing is for sure—the top-ten will have another shakeup. Have fun.