Finally. The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ‘regular season’ has come to a close. What did we learn from the regular season that we can predict what will happen in the post? Absolutely nothing!
This Chase has the potential of being the most anticipated Chase in NASCAR history, but for different reasons. NASCAR made the right decision by creating the ‘wild-card’ spots, even though the point standings didn’t really change after Richmond, like some had expected. So where do we go from here?
Denny Hamlin- I wouldn’t necessarily call Denny Hamlin’s season a ‘failure’, even though they finished well below par for the regular season. Many had anticipated Hamlin to be contending for the Chase, but a streak of disappointing finishes almost hindered him from doing so. The ‘successful’ part of his season: Making the Chase. In theory, that’s a victory within itself. I don’t see Hamlin making any noise, which is pretty much his season in a nutshell. Prediction: 12th
Tony Stewart- Tony Stewart is another driver who barely made the Chase, but he made it. Even though he didn’t appreciate reporters asking him constantly about making the Chase, he found a way to do so. Could you possibly imagine what the Chase season would look like without Stewart, while his teammate, Ryan Newman, sat contending for a championship? That almost became reality, but a decent finish at Richmond (finished P7) landed him a spot within the ‘treasured 12′. Once again, I do find this particular driver able enough to make some noise for this year’s Chase, but not enough to be crowned. Prediction: 11th
Ryan Newman- Ryan has to be proud of his team for securing a Chase spot before the Richmond race, as it allowed a sense of comfort going into Chicago next weekend. In the last eight races, Newman has had three top-five’s and five top-10′s, propelling him into the post season. Maybe that’s the key, do well in the last eight to ten races, and you might find yourself contending for a championship. Prediction: 10th
Kurt Busch- Kurt Busch has had a fairly consistent season, which says a lot coming from a driver who hasn’t been on his “A” game the entire season. Since Busch’s win at Sonoma, Busch has had three top-five’s and five top-10′s, not bad in 10 races. Expect Busch to finish ‘somewhat’ strong, but not strong enough to be the victor of the 2011 season. Prediction: 9th
Carl Edwards- ‘Cousin’ Carl. A name that fits him almost perfectly, as he is probably one of the most genuine Cup guys I have had the privilege to met. Granted, many have mixed opinions on Carl, but one can not argue with the fact that he has been fairly decent this year, which says a lot coming from a season ago where Roush Fenway Racing struggled for much of the season. I expect Edwards to finish just below where he will start this year’s Chase. Prediction: 8th
Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Think back to March, we were talking about a possible championship for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but what has happened since then? After a series of dismal finishes, shortly after the Coca-Cola 600, Junior found himself fighting for a Chase spot. Junior did find himself making the Chase, but we had to watch with much anticipation throughout the Richmond race to see if he would actually make it into the post season. There are a few remaining tracks where I feel that Junior could get that “W” or at least a positive finish: Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix. Do I think he can will do well at all of these tracks? Possibly, but the 88 team has to really dig deep in order to be in contention for that coveted trophy. Prediction: 7th
Jeff Gordon- The original ‘four-time’ has had an unbelievable season, that will probably keep him from talking about a possible retirement any time soon. Personally, this season reminds me a lot of when Gordon was back in his ‘prime’. So, why not pick Gordon to win this year’s Chase? He has the potential to finish well at all of the remaining tracks, but there are other drivers out there that can do the exact same thing. Prediction: 6th
Kevin Harvick- Kevin Harvick has had one of his ‘better’ season this season, which gives him all reason necessary to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Having said that, luck has also been on the side of Harvick, as his first three wins came from three different races where he averaged leading only three laps. Yes, you read that right- In the first three races where Harvick won, Harvick only led nine laps. However, as we all know, sometimes winning the Cup you must possess a little luck, so Harvick should definitely be a favorite to win. Prediction: 5th
Brad Keselowski- Brad Keselowski has far been the most consistent, especially after his incident at Road Atlanta, where he broke his ankle. After winning the last Pocono race, Keselowski has finished P2 at Watkins Glen, P3 at Michigan, won Bristol, P6 at Atlanta, and P12 at Richmond. Not a bad streak entering into his first career Chase. Keselowski has to be feared in order to be conquered, so expect other Chase drivers to ‘spoil’ Keselowski’s recent success any way they could possibly muster. Prediction: 4th
Jimmie Johnson- Breaking News- We WILL have a new champion this year! This is not saying Johnson won’t win the Chase, but this year is far more competitive than in years past. I think every race fan would agree with me when I say it will be like a ‘breath of fresh air’ as we witness another driver hoisting that cherished trophy. Expect Johnson to be there at the end though, as I fully expect this could be a Chase where the top-three drivers will be fighting to win the championship as we head into Miami (the last race of the season). Prediction: 3rd
Kyle Busch- ‘Ole ‘Rowdy’, will definitely be a contender for this years Chase. I have found it unusually difficult to ever count out the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Just as soon as you do, here comes Busch roaring from behind to either win or finish within the top-10. As you know, this season is all about consistency, which is an objective Busch has achieved fairly nicely. As stated before, I do believe there will be a three-way race for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so any of these top-three drivers has the full potential to celebrate throughout the off-season. Prediction: 2nd
Matt Kenseth- Yes, you heard that right; I’m going with Matt Kenseth from Cambridge, WI to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase. No one knows consistency quite like Kenseth, as he has had one of his best seasons on record. I’m uncertain if it was the crew chief change, or if it has something to do with Roush Fenway Racing as a whole, but they have it going on! I fully predict Kenseth to run extremely well at these following tracks: Chicagoland, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, and Homestead. If Kenseth can rack up top-five’s or top-10′s, or even a few wins, I do think Kenseth will win his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Prediction: 1st
Needless to say, these are my predictions of what to expect as we head into Chicagoland this weekend. This is shaping up to be an exciting finish to a very exciting year. So, who are you going with to win this year’s championship?