Chase cut to 10 on road to New Hampshire

Sep 13, 2005 2:54 AM

The final 10 drivers are set as the Chase for the Championship begins this week at New Hampshire.

Each of the participants is separated by a mere five points from first to tenth. The gigantic lead Tony Stewart had built up over the course of 26 races has been reduced to that scant amount over second place starter Greg Biffle. Ryan Newman, in the No. 10 spot, is only 45 behind Stewart after strugging to make the chase. Now, it’s 10 races with everyone having an equal opportunity to win it all.

Last season’s leader coming into the chase was Jeff Gordon. After finishing a very respectable seventh in New Hampshire, Gordon was third with Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kurt Busch tied for the lead. Junior entered the chase third and finished third at New Hampshire, while Busch was seventh. However, Kurt won the race and was catapulted to the top where he would eventually finish as the driving champion last year.

For the bettor, there are plenty of opportunities to cash in on some value. The driver not many talk about, but with a great chance, is Rusty Wallace. This is an endurance race and not necessarily about who wins each event — evident by Jimmie Johnson’s fantastic streak down the stretch last season.

Johnson at one point won four races in the Chase and finished no worse than sixth in the final 6 events. However, Johnson had dug himself such a huge hole in the first four races that he became a non-factor. It’s all about consistency and nobody has done that better than Rusty this season. Many drivers have more top 10’s and top 5’s, but Wallace has stayed on the track longer and better than most. In his final season, Wallace has finally learned the value of patience and is using it masterfully this season.

Busch is the other driver that needs to be taken seriously to win it all. In last season’s championship run, Kurt finished in the top six in eight of the 10 races.

. Last season laid out a blue print for future participants to follow or at least take something away from. The questions coming in will be how hard some of these drivers go? Will they lay low for the first few races attempting to just get through and then go to work late down the stretch? Will they try to come strong out of the gate like Kurt Busch did last year to set the tone and put the pressure on the others?

Stewart has put so much into the season that it would be a shame to see him not win. However, his temper has got the best of him at times.

Last week at Richmond he didn’t have that strong of a car and only took what the track and vehicle could give him. That kind of driving style could really reap rewards for him in the end. Each one of the 10 tracks that Stewart will visit could find him as the favorite.

Greg Biffle will be hard to argue against at Texas and Kansas, but the table is set nicely for Tony based on what he’s accomplished. Busch or Johnson are probably the only drivers that could come close to Stewart in the Chase.

As for this week’s race itself, Kurt Busch looks to be the class of the field on this track and for this race. Look for similar results as last season’s race followed by a few of his Roush racing teammates.