Learning from NASCAR’s past chases
The fifth edition of the NASCAR Chase to the Sprint Cup championship begins Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. And if history is any indication, the majority of the 10 races that comprise the chase portion of the season will be won by chase participants.
During the 40-race history of the chase, 33 of those races were won by drivers competing for the championship, including nine of the 10 races last season. I see no reason why this season will be any different. Of the first 26 races of the season, chase drivers have won 22, with the top three drivers in points—Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson—taking checkers in 18 of the 22.
In fact, the last time one of those three guys didn’t win a Cup race dates back three months, a span of 11 races, to Michigan when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. Talk about dominant. I think it would be a pretty safe assumption that one of those “Big Three” will win the championship. But, like they say, “That’s why they play the game.” Any of the 12 drivers can catch fire during these 10 races and make it interesting.
However, the guy who catches fire this time of year most often is Johnson. He is a streaky driver and has won the last two races at California and Richmond, so I wouldn’t be shocked he knocked a couple of more wins down early in the chase. Only one of two drivers, along with Matt Kenseth, Johnson has 11 wins in the last four wins during the chase, that’s 25 percent of the races. That is tough to beat.
To set the field, Kyle Busch is top seed with 5,080 points, followed by Edwards at 5,060 and Johnson at 5,040. A quartet of drivers are tied with 5,010 points each—Dale Jr., Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Burton. Rounding out the top 12 at 5,000 points each are Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth.
Unlike previous years, no driver dropped out and no driver jumped into the chase field at the Richmond race last weekend. For a while in the middle of the race, it looked like Clint Bowyer might have the bad luck and David Ragan could make the field, but everything came out in the wash and the top 12 remained the same.
Speaking of Ragan, he will be the new guy to carry the UPS colors next season. It was announced Friday that UPS would move its sponsorship dollars from Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann to Roush Fenway Racing’s Ragan. The rich keep getting richer while the mid-level teams keep taking it on the chin in terms of sponsorship dollars.
Seven of the chase participants have won a race at New Hampshire, the site of this week’s race. Clint Bowyer won this race last year, but I am picking Johnson to continue his hot streak and start the chase off with a win.
Have a good one and keep the folks on the Texas Gulf Coast in your prayers.