After an exhausting regular season, twelve teams have made it into “The Final Countdown,” so to speak. These next ten races are meant to elevate the cream of the crop and weigh down the dead weight. It also promotes excitement for the fans, creating anticipation and a boldly preconceived notion: the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is going to end with a bang.
Each race brings a new twist in the plot, forcing the drivers to stay on their toes. There is no sandbagging, laying back, or team orders now. This is literally a chase, hence the name; there is no room for relaxing or half-throttle.
The champion is the one who mashes the gas and doesn’t lift within these ten races. The handle the pressure and become King of the Mountain. It’s difficult to predict who will win it all at the end, but that won’t stop anyone from trying.
Here is how I see the points being at the end of The Chase:
1. Matt Kenseth
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Kasey Kahne
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Kyle Busch
6. Carl Edwards
7. Joey Logano
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Kurt Busch
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11. Martin Truex Jr.
12. Greg Biffle
Here is a breakdown of why I put these drivers where I did, analyzing from the bottom to the top:
Weak links are the first to snap. Twelfth through tenth were easy to determine by asking, “Who are the weakest links in the field?” Biffle does a great job at getting into the finals year after year, but he hasn’t done anything with those berths. Then, we have Truex, who’s still suffering from his wrist injury. He has the potential to be a mid-standings seed, but controversy surrounding the entire Michael Waltrip Organization will deter both him and Bowyer from making headway. Ahead of both is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who doesn’t have the fire to win it all. That may be harsh, but there is a lack of spark and desire that is crucial in performing at a high caliber. Neither he nor Biffle and Truex have that element, thus planting them on the bottom of the field.
Flightiness doesn’t fly here. Kurt Busch has done a fantastic job showing nonbelievers why he deserves a chance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year. An attitude change and becoming emotionally invested in his comeback has done wonders. However, he is representing a single-car team, Furniture Row Racing, in this battle. It’s not him that will be the kryptonite, it’s his crew. Many mistakes have been made on pit road, and that is something Busch can’t control. Speaking of lacking control, Bowyer’s stunt at the end of the race at Richmond International Raceway has impacted both him and Truex. Being asked to bring out a caution to aid his teammate, he has now been labeled as a target in the media world, and the “What it on purpose?” questions won’t stop. Throw that distraction on top of his obvious A.D.D., and he can’t recover. With Logano, it’s a toss-up as to what will be his downfall. Will it be the pressure of solely representing Penske Racing? Or does a lack of experience in the playoffs hinder his efforts? It will be interesting to see how much he has really grown with his move away from Joe Gibbs Racing. These drivers have a question mark sewn onto their chests due to the uncertainty.
Tying knots while at the end of the rope. These three have an opportunity to move up to the next level, but I don’t see them capitalizing on it. Welcome back to victory lane, Edwards, but don’t linger around too long. His optimism shone brightly at Richmond, claiming, “We will win this championship.” That’s nice to say, but will he back it up? He sunk off the radar for a majority of the year, and many times, I was shocked her was second in points. He can talk all he wants, but he needs to bring that noise to the track. Someone who’s always noisy is Kyle Busch, winning races and taking names. His problem? The fact that his past Chase endeavors haven’t amounted to much. This time around involves late-season momentum, which is rare. He has to ride that wave in to have a chance. Overflowing in attitude and determination, this may work well for him. Then, there was Johnson. It’s uncharacteristic to have this five-time champion outside the top three in points, but there are two words behind my choice: new baby. That’s a kink in the plan the team knew was coming, but are they prepared for a somewhat distracted driver? He will be running on no sleep, and that steel mindset will be shaken. While the addition is still a shock, the first two to three weeks will be when Johnson is most vulnerable. He needs to preserve himself in case anyone tries to ruin his chances early. Each of these drivers need to race smart to advance to the top.
Championships are grasped, not given. With that, we come to the class of the field, the final three in my analysis. Kahne is capable of do great things, but he has to take initiative. All the anger he’s accumulated throughout the season has to peak. The normally-kind driver needs to get rough during these races, and that’s his key to ending the year on a high note. Someone he should idolize? Second-place Harvick, who knows when to get dirty. In his final races with Richard Childress Racing, he will fight end his time at the organization with the highest honor. What will fuel him on this hot streak is understanding his desire to live up to the man he replace back in 2001, Dale Earnhardt. That ghost has been haunting him for twelve years now. It’s time to try and give another championship to Childress, finally thanking the owner for giving him a chance long ago. Kenseth at the top isn’t a long-shot, but it’s a prediction to put stock in. There is nobody as focused as he is, and the switch to JGR has revived his winning ways. He’ll be partying like it’s 2003 at the end of The Chase.