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NASCAR Blog - The Chase

Wow. I got lazy with this, huh? Well, regardless, time has flown and the field for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup is set.

  1. Denny Hamlin - 4 wins
  2. Jimmie Johnson - 3 wins
  3. Brad Keselowski - 3 wins
  4. Tony Stewart - 3 wins
  5. Greg Biffle - 2 wins
  6. Clint Bowyer - 2 wins
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr - 1 win
  8. Matt Kenseth - 1 win
  9. Martin Truex Jr - no wins
  10. Kevin Harvick - no wins
  11. Kasey Kahne - 2 wins*
  12. Jeff Gordon - 1 win*

*Kahne and Gordon entered the Chase as Wild Cards, and don't recieve bonus points for their wins, and thus, start with the same points as Truex and Harvick.

Gustafson and Gordon ecstatic about making the Chase
Gustafson and Gordon ecstatic about making the Chase

Super stoked that Gordon made it in. He was on the outside looking in before the race at Richmond started as Kyle Busch had the second Wild Card spot. Technically Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano all had a legitimate shot at the Wild Card as each had a single win and was within the top 20 (Carl Edwards had a slim chance of making it but had no wins to fall back on). But everyone knew it'd come down to Busch and Gordon. Gordon's been on a roll (3rd at Bristol, 2nd at Atlanta) but the odds were stacked against him, Richmond is arguably Busch's best track. But I took comfort in that all 4 of Busch's wins came in the spring race and also the fact that Jeff would be starting on the front row with teammate Earnhardt jr, whom gotten the pole. It started off well enough (after the rain delay, of course), with Gordon leading early - thanks in no part to Jr - to get a precious bonus point. But after a mere few laps he began to fade in a big bad way. When the rain came back and brought out the red flag Gordon was already a lap down and clearly upset with the way his night had gone. Kyle wasn't setting the world on fire, but was firmly in the top 10 and clinging to his Wild Card status. But Gordon wasn't going to give up and crew chief Alan Gustafson worked tirelessly to fix the car. It appeared an act of desperation with ESPN's Dale Jarrett commenting that what they were trying to do he'd never seen work. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Another rain-induced caution that many, including Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers, thought would end the race allowed Jeff and a few others to gamble and come down pit road for tires and fuel. Well the rain wasn't enough to stop the race and Gordon was able to stay far ahead enough of Busch (whom was forced to pit and went 2 laps down) and clinch the Wild Card by finishing second to Clint Bowyer. It was amazing. Loved seeing how pumped he was, like he'd won the race. And, who knows, a couple more laps and he just might have.

The Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen

Now all four Hendrick Motorsports teams are in the Chase and each has been to victory lane. Each has a legitimate shot at the championship. Kahne and Gordon may have gotten in on the Wild Card rule but they deserve to be there. Earnhardt Jr has clearly been the most consistent of the bunch. He's raced cool and smart, and, hey, that long winless skid is finally over, and he continues to head in the right direction. Sure, he's going to have to lead more laps and get some more wins to get a championship, but he can do it. And what can we say about Johnson? Three wins and he should probably have five or six. I like that he thinks big. He doesn't want six championships, he wants eight; six is just a stop on the way. He'll be in the mix till the end. Kahne's first year with HMS started out rough with more than a few finishes outside the top 30, he admittedly pushed the cars harder than he needed to. But he's had some damn fast car and he typically qualifies great too. With two wins under their belt the 5 team knows they can get it done; they just have to make sure that the bad luck that plagued the 24/5 shop is gone for good. Which brings us to Jeff Gordon. He wants it. Bad. Drive for five started over a decade ago and the destination could be within sight. With three straight top 3 finishes he's got momentum on his side and if the team could save the car from Richmond they can do it anywhere. This could finally be the year he hoists a "Sprint" Cup trophy.

Obviously we know who I'm a fan of, but there are other drivers in the Chase as well. How about Michael Waltrip Racing. Both Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr are in the Chase and part time drivers of the 55 (Mark Martin and Brian Vickers) have been competitive. This is the first time the team has put drivers in the Chase. And what about Denny Hamlin? I think he gets a little too cocky when he wins, but he well could be on his way to erasing his heartache from 2010. And, Bad Brad continues to prove that he's a serious threat for the title, and unlike last year this time his three wins count for bonus points. Of course there's the model of consistency Matt Kenseth, whom just announced (surprise!) that he's replacing Joey Logano in the 20 car next year at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don't think his departure from Roush Fenway will be a detractor, he's going to be tough. Same goes for his teammate Greg Biffle, who's coming off a recent win at Michigan. If the Biff wins he'll be the first driver in the history of the sport to have a championship in each of NASCAR's top three series. Last, and, well, in my opinion least, there's Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Because of what Tony did last year he can't be discounted. And while, for most of the season, Harvick has simply just been there the return of crew chief Gil Martin has pushed the team to be more competitive. On a personal level I don't like either Stewart or Harvick and don't want to see either of them win.

Now the stage is set. Twelve drivers, one trophy. I know who I want to see holding it at season's end. How 'bout you?