Tag:Chase for the Sprint Cup
Posted on: October 24, 2011 11:51 am
Edited on: October 24, 2011 11:52 am
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Charting the Chase: Talladega

By Pete Pistone

A quick look at how the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers fared in Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.  
 

Carl Edwards (Talladega: 11th) – Played the conservative game and rode around in the back of the pack before hooking up with teammate Greg Biffle and drafted to the front to score a finish good enough to help increase his series point lead to fourteen.

Chase Chatter: “That was a heck of a day for teamwork. Greg (Biffle) did an unbelievable job of sticking with me and we get to come out of here extending our points lead, which is good.” 

Matt Kenseth (Talladega: 18th) – Not a fan of tandem racing and got caught up in the game of trying to find a right partner at the end. Kenseth did get with David Ragan but time had already run out to make a move.

Chase Chatter:  “We got in up there real high and had a bunch of cars pass us. It was disappointing to run in the front all day and then finish where we finished but we made it through so I guess the damage could have been worse.”

Brad Keselowski (Talladega: Fourth) – Found a bit of an odd drafting partner in Dave Blaney but the pair up worked well enough for Keselowski to knock down a Top 5 finish and climb further up the Chase standings.

Chase Chatter: “This is what we need to do.  We needed to have a strong run here.  We put ourselves in contention and you know the fates didn’t smile on us, but we still got a great finish out of it and I’m proud of my team.” 

Tony Stewart (Talladega: Seventh) – Moved up through the early going when he drafted with Joey Logano and then hooked up with Paul Menard to make a potent pair. Until Menard left Stewart and he was forced to drop back out of the lead pack. 

Chase Chatter:  “I screwed up and got out of sync with Ryan (Newman) and crashed him, and after that you just had to pick up whoever you could pick up. We had a good run with Joey (Logano) there for a long time and were lucky enough to pick Paul Menard up. I had good partners to push with. Paul and Joey both did a great job and Ryan did a great job. I let Ryan down today.”
 
Kevin Harvick (Talladega: 32nd) – Got caught up in the big melee on the frontstretch. The RCR team tried to make repairs and get Harvick back out but an oil leak finally doomed the No. 29 team, which took a big hit in the standings.

Chase Chatter:   "It is a little bit frustrating. You do what you think is right at this particular race track and you hope for the best. We had a lot of great runs in the weeks leading up to this and I guess the odds were against us coming into this one."

Kyle Busch (Talladega: 33rd) – More than likely saw his championship hopes go completely out the window when he was swept up in the same multi-car wreck that bit Harvick.

Chase Chatter: (Crew chief Dave Rogers) “I want to go to Martinsville and I want to sit on the pole, I want to lead every lap and I want to win the race. That was my mindset four hours ago and it’s going to be my mindset in six, seven days. We’re going to try to lead every lap and win every race from here on out and wherever that puts us in the points at the end of the year, we’ll take it.”

Jimmie Johnson (Talladega: 26th) – The reign is over for Johnson as his championship hopes were dashed when he couldn’t get to the front fast enough in the closing laps after hooking up with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. A fifty point deficit is too much to overcome even for Johnson.

Chase Chatter: “We’ve just got to keep fighting and keep working on getting every point we can at every race. We have no clue what’s going to happen to all the Chase drivers and I want to finish as high as I possibly can in the Chase. That does mean the championship. If it’s not there, I want to finish as high as I possibly can.”

Kurt Busch (Talladega: 36th) – A hard crash into Bobby Labonte ended Busch’s day on a sour note and added the Penske Racing driver to the list of championship also rans in 2011.

Chase Chatter:  “Our championship hopes are done just because of this two-car Talladega draft. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Talladega: 25th) – Was hindered by Hendrick’s decision to keep Junior back in the pack with Johnson and when it was time to go, time ran out for Earnhardt. Needless to say he’s also not a fan of today’s restrictor plate racing.

Chase Chatter: "Yea, bored. I'd rather race up in there and try to lead laps and do whatever but it's really not my style of racing. Being pushed and carrying on all day long. Trying to lead a couple of laps that are sort of meaningless really doesn't make a lot of sense either.”

Jeff Gordon (Talladega: 27th) – Was embroiled in the end of race controversy with Trevor Bayne, who after agreeing to draft with Gordon bailed for another Ford teammate in the closing run to the finish line. Gordon had a strong car and looked very capable of a seventh Talladega win.

Chase Chatter:  I was going to go with the No. 13 but Trevor (Bayne) lined up behind me and when he agreed to it and I said hey, we can’t go with a better person than that. He’s got a fast race car; we already have history of working well together and I thought it was a no-brainer. But I probably should have known better.”

Denny Hamlin (Talladega: Eighth) – Was a man without a country early in the race when Hamlin couldn’t find a drafting partner and fell a lap down. The day got worse later when he spun but somehow Hamlin fought his way back to come home with a Top 10 finish.

Ryan Newman (Talladega: 38<sup>th</sup>) – Got taken out by teammate and boss Tony Stewart when the duo tried to tandem draft together but the plan went seriously wrong and Newman’s day ended very early.

 

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Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 6:22 am
 

Idle Thoughts: Chase tight for several reasons

By Pete Pistone


  Jimmie Johnson, Driver Of The #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Celebrates
(Johnson's season hasn't been as dominant as past years and in turn opened up the championship race)

If it seems this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup title fight is extraordinarily close you’re exactly right.

Four races into the 2011 edition of the Chase finds eight drivers separated by only twenty points. 

True NASCAR changed the points allocation table for the Sprint Cup Series this year, which now uses a 43-1 distribution system from first to last. The smaller denominations have made it easier for fans – and competitors – to keep track of the points with basically one point on the line for each spot on the track. 

But even using the old format that paid 180 points for winning races, the first eight guys in this year’s standings would be only about 60 points apart, easily the tightest at this stage since the Chase debuted in 2004. 

Carl Edwards is on top of the mountain but Kyle Busch is only 20 behind in the number eight spot heading into Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

This is exactly what NASCAR had hoped for when the Chase was designed more than eight years ago. 

“I’m not sure we could be anymore pleased with how the Chase is unfolding, and frankly, how the season is unfolding, the level of competition, the closeness of the Chase,” said NASCAR CEO Brian France.

“Our hope always is that we come down to the finale at South Florida, at Homestead, and we have as many drivers really in the thick of it as possible. That’s the goal, that’s what we hope.”

NASCAR’s previous championship system of simply adding up points over the course of the entire 36-race season resulted in only a handful of truly memorable title races. More often than not a couple of drivers were still in contention for the crown at the season finale and most years the championship was well wrapped before the schedule ended. 

Then along came the Chase in 2004 in hopes of creating a NASCAR-style playoff atmosphere which still keeping intact the importance of the longest regular season in professional sports.

To this day a faction of old school fans can’t stand the Chase and long for the days of the cumulative point system. But despite Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented five straight title, all coming within the Chase era, the championship storylines have been much more entertaining since its inception.

But even NASCAR has to be beyond delighted at how tight this season’s Chase has begun and the excellent prospects for it to remain that way all the way to November’s Homestead-Miami season finale. 

But what has caused the Sprint Cup championship picture to be so fuzzy in 2011 and why are things so tight heading to the halfway mark of the Chase? And why has interest and television ratings including last Sunday’s Kansas race, been on the rise? There are a few different elements to the equation:  

Competition Evens Out 

After a regular season that saw 16 different winners and five drivers scoring their first career Sprint Cup victory, the seeds for a more wide-open Chase were planted. No one team dominated the first 26 races of the campaign and the two drivers with the most wins coming into the Chase – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch with four a piece – didn’t run away and hide in terms of the point standings. The resurgence of Ford’s Sprint Cup program with Roush Fenway Racing brought Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth into the title fight. Jeff Gordon enjoyed a renaissance with a pair of wins and a great deal of momentum heading into the Chase. No one saw Penske Racing, fielding the only two Dodges in the Sprint Cup Series, becoming a powerhouse with Kurt Busch and upstart Brad Keselowski challenging. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman also became a weekly threat to win. Success was spread out throughout the opening seven months of the season and has carried through to the opening of the Chase  

Wild Card Madness 

The introduction of two wild car entries to this year’s Chase field made the final weeks of the regular season dramatic and unpredictable. There were more than a dozen drivers who had a shot at grabbing one of the two new spots with only two races left before the Chase cut-off, which helped ramp up the excitement level over who would qualify for the playoffs. Upstart Keselowski and Denny Hamlin finally stamped their Chase berths through the wild card but not before a wild final regular season night of racing at Richmond. 

Fuelish Strategies

There was a time when fuel mileage strategy played into a handful of races a season and at certain tracks like Michigan, Fontana or road courses. Those days are long gone. Today figuring out how to get to the finish line on the day’s final tank of gas happens any time and any place. Less caution flags have meant more green flag runs and forced crew chiefs to be on their fuel calculation game nearly on a weekly basis. That unknown factor has thrown a curve at the series this year and presented opportunities to drivers who may not have necessarily had the fastest car of the day, but rather that were able to drive as much with their head as their feet.

The Junior Factor

He still hasn’t won a race since 2008, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been much more competitive this year than recent seasons. Junior made the Chase for the first time in three years and his immense fan base and popularity outside the NASCAR world has noticed. More than any other driver, Earnhardt’s performance drives interest in NASCAR and is similar to Tiger Woods’ days as golf’s lightning rod.  While his title hopes are now in the long shot at best category, having Earnhardt in the playoffs has given NASCAR a jolt in the exposure department. 

Anyone but Johnson

Until his Kansas win on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson was a bit off the radar. Even the perception that Johnson wasn’t having one of his typically dominant seasons that have led to five consecutive titles gave hope to fans and drivers hungry to see someone else hoist the Sprint Cup trophy in Homestead.  The potential of seeing a fresh face in victory lane every week and perhaps as the series champion is most likely responsible for the bump in television numbers. Johnson and company’s run in NASCAR is impressive, but the dynasty story in all sports gets old after a while. Title number six may very well be in Johnson’s future, but having others in the mix at this juncture of the Chase is a good thing for the sport’s interest level.
 

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 12:12 pm
 

Kyle Busch leads Chase exposure

Posted by Pete Pistone

From News Release

Although he is off to a slow start in this year's Chase, #18-Kyle Busch's regular season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series could not have gone much better in terms of television exposure for himself and his sponsors. Altogether, Busch's presence during TV coverage of the first 26 Cup Series races helped deliver $57.8 million of exposure value to his sponsors, nearly $14 million more than the next most brand-friendly driver, Jimmie Johnson. According to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, Inc.  which has monitored every NASCAR race telecast over the last 27 seasons  Busch's sponsors as a group appeared for 21 hours, five minutes, 45 seconds (21:05:45) during live and replayed race telecasts. Also contributing were a season-leading 251 mentions of Busch's sponsors.

Joyce Julius calculates television exposure value by comparing the in-broadcast visual and verbal exposure to the estimated cost of a national commercial during the telecast and applying Joyce Julius Recognition Grading  which takes into account such factors as size and placement of the image on screen, as well as brand clutter and integration of the brand into the activity. Further evidence of Busch's regular season TV dominance can be seen from the 4,257 times announcers mentioned his name during the telecasts. Likewise, in terms of logo saturated on-camera interviews, Busch ranked second in total interviews conducted and third in interview length.

Defending Series Champion #48-Jimmie Johnson stood second in cumulative sponsor exposure value with $43.9 million, trailed by #24-Jeff Gordon ($42.1 million) and #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($35.1 million) a distant fourth.


 
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Posted on: September 27, 2011 3:13 pm
 

New Hampshire TV ratings up significantly

Posted by Pete Pistone

The second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway generated a large audience for ESPN:

From News Release

ESPN's live telecast of the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 25, earned a 3.1 household coverage rating, averaging 4,235,000 viewers, according to the Nielsen Company. The rating was up 19% from last year's New Hampshire race, which also aired on ESPN and earned a 2.6 rating. The telecast also saw double-digit growth in key audience demographics, including a 28% rise in the Male 18-34 demographic and a 20% rise in the Male 18-49 demographic. The audience also saw 33 percent of growth in the Persons 55+ demographic.

 
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Posted on: September 26, 2011 12:49 pm
 

Charting the Chase: New Hampshire

By Pete Pistone

A quick look at how the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers fared in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

Tony Stewart (Loudon: First) Stewart has that nothing to lose mentality going and it’s worked to perfection with back-to-back wins to open the Chase. There may be something to be said for not even counting yourself as a title contender only four weeks ago in terms of alleviating expectations. 

Chase Chatter: “We got rid of some dead weight earlier this week, so it made it a lot easier. It’s been a big weight lifted off our shoulders – just sometimes you have to make adjustments in your life and we did that and it has definitely helped.” 

Kevin Harvick (Loudon: 12th) Had fuel mileage issues that kept him from making a serious challenge for the front of the field. Certainly seemed to have a better car than the 12th place finish would indicate and the problems caused some tense moments in the 29 camp on Sunday. 

Chase Chatter: “Just not the day we wanted.” 

Brad Keselowski (Loudon: Second) Keselowski has taken a similar approach to Stewart and says he doesn’t feel any pressure to perform because nobody expected him to be in the Chase or stay in the title fight. But he’s shown no signs of being close to bowing out after a runner-up performance Sunday. 

Chase Chatter: “We did the things we needed to do.  We weren’t as fast as we wanted to be but we worked on our car, adjusted on it and got it where we could race with it there at the end and just had good strategy and pulled out a second.  We probably weren’t a second-place car but we worked hard and made something happen.” 

Carl Edwards (Loudon: Eighth) Avoided what could have been a disastrous day when he made unintentional contact with teammate Matt Kenseth. Knocked down another Top 10 finish to stay near the front of the Chase field. 

Chase Chatter: “We had a pretty good finish, but we didn’t have a very good day.  We struggled.  This is one tough race track, very, very tough.”  

Jeff Gordon (Loudon: Fourth) Team’s inability to get the entire fuel load into the No. 24 on the final stop wound up costing Gordon a potentially better finish. Led the most laps and had a fast car but was forced into a conservation mode down the stretch.

Chase Chatter:  “I’m just glad we finished fourth. It is tough conditions to race in. I don’t think that we wanted to see back-to-back fuel mileage races like this, but, it is kind of the name of the game these days."

Kyle Busch (Loudon: 11th) The former number one Chase seed continued his frustrating start to the playoffs with a day that ended up with an 11th place finish but didn’t see the No. 18 car competitive nearly all afternoon. 

Chase Chatter: “We got the car to where we were fast in the early part of the run, but we fell off a little too much as the run went along.”

Matt Kenseth (Loudon: Sixth) Rebounded from being tagged and spun by teammate Edwards to score an impressive sixth place finish and in the process keep his Chase hopes alive after his disappointing open in Chicago.?

Chase Chatter: “It was great, except for when we spun out because we lost some track position, but, overall, it was good. It was the best-driving car I’ve had at Loudon since they introduced the COT, so I thought it was a great day for us.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Loudon: 17th) Suffered through not one but two flat tires to squelch what had the makings of being a pretty solid day. Junior’s car early on was among the fastest on track but too many trips to pit road for issues ended his chance to compete. 

Chase Chatter: “We had a flat tire that cost us a lot more track position and I had another flat in the last couple laps there. Just didn’t hit nobody or nothing; just had too much camber or something in the front right.”

Kurt Busch (Loudon: 22nd) Day started poorly when NASCAR sent the No. 22 Dodge back through inspection just before the command to start engines and got worse from there.

Chase Chatter: “We were late going through inspection and that set the tone for our day.”

Jimmie Johnson (Loudon: 18th) A very atypical day for the five time champion that included an on track tangle with Kyle Busch as well as a heated exchange with crew chief Chad Knaus.

Chase Chatter: “I’m going 100 percent regardless of what’s being said on the radio. That’s all we had all day long.” 

Ryan Newman (Loudon: 25th) While teammate and boos Tony Stewart was celebrating in victory lane for a second straight week, a flat tire in the final laps robed Newman of a good finish Sunday.

Chase Chatter: “We just had a tough day. We had a couple of slow pit stops and then we had a tire go down at the end. It was just a disappointing day for us.” 

Denny Hamlin (Loudon: 29th) Came close to pulling a possible Top 5 finish out of his helmet with a fuel mileage gamble that ultimately ended with the No. 11 running out of gas two laps shy of the checkered flag.

Chase Chatter: "We've got to work through it. Another tough day for us, but we're just figuring out what we need to do to be a little bit more competitive."
 

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Posted on: September 20, 2011 12:42 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 12:58 pm
 

Charting the Chase: Chicagoland Speedway

By Pete Pistone

A quick look at how the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers fared in Monday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kevin Harvick (Chicago: Second)
Fuel Strategy allowed crew chief Gil Martin to take the reins off at the perfect time for a run to the front and with a few more laps may have eventually ran down Tony Stewart for the Chicagoland win.

Chase Chatter: “If you can come out of here with a second … during the year it was all about trying to win races. Now it's about accumulating points.”
 

Tony Stewart (Chicago: First)
Three weeks ago he said he wasn’t a championship-caliber threat. While he’s still not buying it yet his performance Sunday puts him right there in the title picture.

Chase Chatter: “You couldn’t pick a better weekend to get that first win of the year."
 

Carl Edwards (Chicago: Fourth)
Nothing spectacular but he didn’t need it to stay in the hunt and came home with a fourth place finish in the middle of all the fuel strategy nuttiness.

Chase Chatter: “It was a really good day at the beginning and we showed a lot of speed, and then we struggled a little bit but came back with great fuel mileage at the end and that was huge for us.
 

Kurt Busch (Chicago: Sixth)
Very fast at the beginning and faded some Sunday but still didn’t do himself any harm with a solid sixth place performance.

Chase Chatter:  To get a sixth-place finish to start the Chase is a good step.  We still want those race wins.”
 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Chicago: Third)
Junior was the first to admit that the fuel strategy biting others helped him to a third place finish but the bottom line is he rocketed from tenth to fifth in the standings.

Chase Chatter: “Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel, but we were running really well at the end."
 

Brad Keselowski (Chicago: Fifth)
If you’re waiting for him to fade you’ll probably have to wait a little longer. Got a Top 5 Monday in the face of adversity and stayed right in the Chase picture.

Chase Chatter: "We tried some different strategy, got moved to the back, but kept plugging away and got fifth out of it.  Our fuel mileage was awesome.   It was a good first step for us in the Chase."
 

Ryan Newman (Chicago: Eighth)
He just made it across the finish line before running out of gas but backed up his boss’ win with a Top 10 run of his own.

Chase Chatter: 'It's about confidence, consistency and momentum and that's what we have right now," noted Newman. "Yes, I look forward to New Hampshire -- it's a track where I've had plenty of success."
 

Jimmie Johnson (Chicago: Tenth)
Optimists who think Johnson can be toppled this year in the championship point to the fuel mileage miscalculation Monday as an example the 48 team has the door open this season.

Chase Chatter: "Not what we wanted. We certainly had a great race car and it’s just too bad. We ran out (of fuel) coming to the white flag.”
 

Kyle Busch (Chicago: 22nd)
Oh oh. Busch must have thought the calendar rolled back to 2008 after the way his Chase began this time around on Monday.

Chase Chatter: "I saved as much fuel as I could but I guess it just wasn’tenough and we ran out with two to go.  Just really disappointing day." 

Matt Kenseth (Chicago: 21st)
Has never been a fan of fuel mileage racing. After Monday there’s no reason to ask why. 

Chase Chatter: "It is really frustrating to be a race-car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans and you have to run half throttle and can’t floor it or you will run out of gas.” 
 

Jeff Gordon (Chicago: 24th)
All that talk of momentum coming into the Chase went away in a hurt after a miserable day Monday ended with Gordon falling down the standings.

Chase Chatter: “We were just off. We didn’t qualify good. That got us behind right there. It was just one of those days, you know."
 

Denny Hamlin (Chicago: 31st)
A microcosm of his season wrapped up into one race Monday at Chicagoland Speedway and Hamlin’s championship hopes appear to be over before they even started.

Chase Chatter: “Every point matters right now. You can lose by one point and … right off the bat you put yourself into a hole.”
 

 
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Posted on: September 13, 2011 11:54 am
Edited on: September 13, 2011 11:57 am
 

Idle Thoughts: Best of the rest

By Pete Pistone

  (Back Row L-R) Tony Stewart, Driver Of The #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Brad Keselowski, Driver Of The #2
(Just because they're not in the Chase doesn't mean other drivers don't have anything left to race for in 2011)

The field of twelve drivers running for this year’s Sprint Cup Series championship is set to begin battle Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway.

But in NASCAR’s unique playoff system, those dozen will be up against 31 other competitors at every one of the ten races left on the schedule. While the title is on the line for the Chase participants, the rest of the starting line-up has its own goals of running well and trying to get to victory lane the balance of the season.

There are a number of non-Chasers who could make some noise over the final ten weekends of the year: 

A.J. Allmendinger

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver sits 13th in the overall standings and put together an impressive regular season despite falling short of making the Chase. Allmendinger remains the leading candidate to join the five drivers who have already scored their first Sprint Cup win this season and will be someone to watch at places like Chicagoland, Dover, Kansas and Texas in particular. 

Greg Biffle

Biffle’s disappointment at not making the Chase could be tempered by a couple of wins before the season ends. Things need to get back on an even keel with the No. 16 team, which has been wildly inconsistent this year. However the intermediate-size track heavy Chase schedule favors Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing team. 

David Ragan

Nearly snuck his way into the Chase as a wild card with his run at Richmond but will now have to finish the year strong in hopes of solidifying his Sprint Cup career. There’s a strong chance Roush could scale back to only three cars in 2012 thanks in no small part to Ragan’s sponsor UPS dialing down its sponsorship commitment. Ragan has no guarantees with any team for next season right now but another win to go a long with his July Daytona victory would certainly help the resume. 

Clint Bowyer

Bowyer is another driver unsure about his Sprint Cup future and in desperate need to end the season on an upswing. While the door remains open at Richard Childress Racing, the departure of General Mills as sponsor of the No. 33 Chevrolet with no replacement in sight could also mean a smaller RCR stable in 2012. Bowyer reportedly has had serious talks with RPM but that organization also needs a sponsor to add a third car to its effort next year. A successful last ten races would help negotiations with a potential sponsor. 

Mark Martin

The veteran has ten races left at Hendrick Motorsports before giving way to Kasey Kahne who takes the wheel of the No. 5 Chevy next season. It’s been a mediocre year for Martin with only a pair of Top 5 runs to his credit. He’s indicated a desire to come back again next season and may well find his way to Stewart-Haas Racing in a split season with Danica Patrick’s Sprint Cup effort but needs to go into the off-season with some confidence.

Kasey Kahne

While Kahne’s future is set with his move to Hendrick next year, things are still very much up in the air with the Team Red Bull organization. The energy drink company is pulling out of its team ownership at year’s end and although there’s indications Red Bull could stay as a sponsor-only, they now seem remote. TRB’s general Manager Jay Frye has been working hard to bring in new investors to keep the team afloat and reborn. Kahne can help showcase the operation to potential new owners by performing well over the next three months. 

Juan Pablo Montoya

His year has been a bust and despite changing crew chiefs mid-season, Montoya has rarely been competitive in 2011. The last ten races of the year should be used as a test session to find whatever’s been ailing the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing effort (which includes teammate Jamie McMurray) and ensure it hits the ground running by Speedweeks next February. Montoya or EGR cannot afford to get off to a bad start in 2012 and keep the disappointing performances going.

Joey Logano

The pressure of whether Logano could possibly be replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing by Carl Edwards is now off and he’s safe for another year with the team. There has been a marked turnaround in performance since mid-summer but Logano has to take things up even further in the final ten races. He ended last year as one of the hottest drivers in the series and had hoped to carry that momentum into 2011. That didn’t happen with a bad Speedweeks setting the tone for the first half of the new year. He’ll have to deal with the continuing engine issues at JGR, as evident by his blown motor at Richmond, but Logano needs to replicate his end of season run of a year ago

 
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Posted on: August 31, 2011 2:55 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2011 6:20 pm
 

Chasing the Chase with two to go

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail

(Will Hamlin race his way into another run for the championship?)

In the ever-changing world of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship picture it’s foolish to try and predict who will make the playoffs with only two races left in the regular season. 

But when has looking foolish ever stopped me? 

There is one group of drivers already locked into this year’s Chase with seven other positions still up for grabs with Atlanta and Richmond remaining in the regular season. 

The new Wild Card berths have thrown the whole process into one that’s even tougher to predict but as the series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway and Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500, here’s how things are shaping up: 


LOCKED IN 

Kyle Busch

His win at Michigan two weeks ago showed he’ll be a force on the many intermediate-sized tracks that make up the bulk of the Chase schedule but last Saturday night’s effort at Bristol is more puzzling. A 14th place finish at a track he’s owned in recent years is not what was expected of Busch. 

Jimmie Johnson

Starting to come around as the Chase draws near but there are two questions surrounding Johnson’s quest for a sixth straight title? Have the pit road issues that have impacted the 48 team been addressed and how will the simmering feud with Kurt Busch play into the run for this year’s championship? 

Carl Edwards

If the No. 99 team is experimenting with things to see what might work in the Chase things need to stop. Edwards has lost any semblance of momentum he had earlier this season and is in near dire need of two good weeks in Atlanta and Richmond to come into the Chase on an up note. 

Matt Kenseth

Slow and steady can still win the race for the title and there may be no one better at knocking down consistent finishes than Kenseth. It’s how he won the last pre-Chase title in 2003 and even with a change in format, that style can also bring home a title this season. 

Kevin Harvick

Much like Edwards Harvick and his team need to toss aside any tinkering and get back to what helped them get to victory lane three times in the season’s first four months. Not only has Harvick been absent from victory lane since Charlotte in May he’s rarely been in contention for a win all summer.

Jeff Gordon

He’ll have a solid shot at championship number five if what’s worked for the team is carried over into the Chase, which is not beating himself with mistakes or miscalculations. That wasn’t the case Saturday at Bristol when crew chief Alan Gustafson got snookered on strategies that will have even bigger ramifications if repeated come Chase time. 

 

NEARLY THERE

Ryan Newman

Another week in Atlanta like his trip to Bristol last weekend should be enough to punch Newman’s ticket to the Chase. Has shown to have good speed and more importantly consistency to run upfront and be in the lead pack when the checkered flag flies. 

Kurt Busch

Heading in the wrong direction as the Chase approaches and the downward spiral has to be halted in a hurry. Pit road speeding violations doomed Busch in Bristol but that was the latest in a pretty long list of circumstances that have kept the Double Deuce out of the front pack the majority of the summer. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior fans may not want to hear it but the No. 88 team is taking an approach to not miss the Chase and playing things very conservatively down the stretch. Don’t look for crew chief Steve Letarte to roll the dice on any huge gambles over the course of the next two races and rather take a steady course to just make the playoffs before changing direction. 

Brad Keselowski

The circuit’s hottest driver is in the playoffs either by way of the Wild Card or by the looks of his current string of success as a member of the Top 10 in the point standings. Could Keselowski be the Green Bay packers of this year’s NASCAR season and roll into the playoffs red hot and carry that momentum all the way through to a championship? It should be fun to watch.

 

On the Bubble 

Tony Stewart

Unless Stewart shakes out his doldrums in the next two weeks he could find himself knocked out of the Top 10 in the standings by the surging Keselowski and without any wins to his credit, the two-time champion would not have a chance as a Wild Card entry. 

Denny Hamlin

His up and down season was sort of up last week at Bristol when he salvaged a seventh place finish and hung on to the second Wild Card spot. A win at Atlanta or Richmond would sew up at least the Wild Card but the way Hamlin’s year has been going don’t bank on anything just yet.

Clint Bowyer

Still clinging to the hopes of sliding into the Top 10 should Stewart falter and Keselowski need to use his three wins as a Wild Card entry. Bowyer has no wiggle room for problems over the course of the next two weeks.

 
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