The Chase! Ten races. Twelve drivers. Forty points. That's the separation from the points leader to twelfth position. The NASCAR playoffs start this weekend in Loudon, NH. In this special Chase edition of RSO, I'll give a short cap on all twelve drivers and what I think of their championship chances.
The points have been reseeded with Mark Martin's four wins vaulting him into the points lead. It's a very slim margin from first back to the four guys tied for 9th. Forty points is only seven or eight spots on the track. With double file restarts that's one bad restart, one missed turn, or one balky air gun in the pits.
1....Mark Martin. A popular choice to win it all. Look for a lot of old Bud, AMP, and National Guard tee shirts on Marky Mark's bandwagon. I'll admit, I never thought he would make the Chase or even win more than once this season. Has he been showing his hand all year? Probably yes. Look for some other teams to juice it now, and the #5 team won't be able to keep up. Guarantee.....Martin will give his standard "we gave it everything we had" speech.
2....Tony Stewart. Smoke has really limped into the Chase. Mostly bad finishes over the last month or so. Has HMS already started giving Stewart-Haas second line equipment? Probably yes. Stewart is a late season terror though, and you can never count him out. Guarantee....Top four in the final points standings which is more than a new team should even dream about.
3......Jimmie Johnson. Three time defending champion. Actually ran up front most of the year instead of waiting for the Chase....again. Will JJ, and Chad Knaus, make it four in a row? Probably yes. Another team would have to bring it very strong, make JJ race them for it, and have a lot of luck to keep the #48 team away from the head table at the banquet this year. Guarantee....Top two in....aw, hell, here's your champ.
4.....Denny Hamlin. One of the strongest teams going into the Chase. Has been pretty solid all year. Will the #11 guys benefit from teammate, Kyle Busch, not being in the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Denny will have that sour, confused look on his mug a few times in the next ten weeks.
5.....Kasey Kahne. Kasey also has a head of steam entering the Chase. This team just doesn't have the resources that the teams ahead of it does. Will being a lame duck Dodge team hurt Kahne's chances? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Kahne will win at least one race in the Chase.
6.....Jeff Gordon. Has been runing good as of late. You can not count this team out either. Gordon needs to show that he still has the fire in his belly to contend, though. This could be his last real shot to prove he's still Big Daddy. Will the #24 team fall short in the title hunt? Probably yes. Guarantee....Will be racing Martin for second place honors at HMS.
7......Kurt Busch. The Chase begins on a great track for Busch. Too bad it's great for about half the other Chasers, too. Now would be a great time for Dodge to show what they can do for their flagship team. I just don't see it. Add in their lame duck crew chief, and these guys are in survival mode. Will they finish out of the top ten in points? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Second best Dodge in final points standings.
8....Brian Vickers. Hard nosed driver, raced his way into the Chase. Hard nosed is not the way to win a title, though. You have to throw in a little smarts too. Will Vickers lead the most laps in one of the final ten races, yet not win the race? Probably yes. Guarantee.....take 'probably' out of that last sentence.
9....Carl Edwards. Won the most races last year. No wins this year. Yet, his car owner, Jack Roush, is not crying about it to NASCAR. What gives? Is Roush laying in the weeds with something special just for the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee.....Will finish in the top five in points.
10......Ryan Newman. Talk about flying under the radar. No wins here either. If HMS has already cut Tony off the good stuff, I doubt Ryan will be much better in the Chase. Does Newman consider this season a success just by making the Chase? Probably yes. Guarantee....Will not win a Chase race this year.
11.....Juan Pablo Montoya. 'Raced' his way into the Chase. Finally another team copies the #48's recipe for making the Chase. Top ten finishes whenever possible and you'll make it. JPM says he's not changing that recipe now, either. Is that sound stategy? Probably yes. Guarantee....This will not lead to dozens of other teams stealing this recipe.
12....Greg Biffle. Another of the four teams without a win making the Chase. Da Biff started last year's Chase with two straight wins and finished third in points at year's end. No lightning in the area. Will Roush treat Biffle like a stepchild, compared to Edwards? Probably yes. Guarantee....Biffle will win a Chase race.