Cup chasedown to 12

Sep 11, 2007 7:13 AM

And now the playoffs begin!

We have separated the pretenders from the contenders, cleaned the crumbs off the dinner table and sent the homely girls packing at the pageant. Though the drivers who don’t rank in the top 12 are still allowed to run the final 10 races, the spotlight will be among what actually looks to be the best in the Cup Series this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr missed the Chase for the Championship this season only because he’s not part of one of the 12 best teams.

There are all kinds of stats and data you can go through to figure who is going to win the Chase. It’s important to be fair and un-biased when deciphering through all the trends. Don’t sell yourself short on a driver with a legitimate shot at winning like Tony Stewart because you’re a devout Lowe’s home improvement shopper. So let’s take a look at some questions you may ask yourself.

”¡ Who’s hot? Jimmie Johnson. He qualifies as the correct answer with two straight wins and has a jump on going back to back as champion. Johnson starts the 10 race run with a 20 point lead due to his victories on the season. Of the 8 tracks in the 10-race Chase that the teams have run on already this season, Johnson has two wins and an average finish of 9½.

”¡ Best driver on the 8? Matt Kenseth. This may come as a surprise to many, but because he hasn’t won on any. Kenseth has had great consistency with four top 5s and no finish worse than 14. His average finish on the 8 tracks is 7½. Not bad for a driver listed at 12/1 to win it all.

”¡ What driver has no chance? Kyle Busch. We love him in Las Vegas, but he’s just got too much going against him. In the 8 races he ran already, the result was 30 or worse in 4. His best finish was fourth at Martinsville. The 3 sister tracks with similar banking and configurations (Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas) were the cruelest to Kyle. One more thing. Kyle’s lame duck status with Hendrick, while the company’s poster boys and supposed teammates are vying for championships, will not help him get the best equipment in the shop.

”¡ Will Car of Tomorrow factor? The COT will race in 5 events. Talladega ran the car of yesterday in the earlier race this season. Interestingly enough, as my favorite of all time Vin Scully says, Denny Hamlin happened to be the best combined in those 4 COT races. Hamlin was first at New Hampshire, third at Martinsville and Phoenix, and fourth at Dover. Hamlin will have a nice edge in those races. Only Kenseth has a better average finish on the 8 combined tracks. Hamlin’s average finish is 8.6.

”¡ Can NASCAR Playoffs top other sports?

Never! NASCAR has its big event the Daytona 500 in February and its season runs through November. Just like baseball, football sort of steals some of the thunder from both the fans and media. I like the way NASCAR has tweaked the format of the Chase each year in an attempt to improve it. In ranking best of playoffs, I’d say baseball, NFL, college hoops, Champions League Soccer and Hockey. College Football doesn’t have a playoff. I didn’t forget the WNBA or NBA; but neither are that "fantastic." The Bass Pro Shops fishing championships have long passed the NBA in my rankings.

”¡ Race #1: New Hampshire

Earlier this year at Loudon, Denny Hamlin won. Jeff Gordon was great in the race with a second, as was the DEI duo of Junior and Martin Truex Jr. The only thing that has changed is that both Dodge and Ford have gotten much better in the COT races. Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman have led the Dodge charge. Ford has been led by Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Last week, their Roush teammate, David Ragan came out of nowhere to post a top 5 at Richmond.

Many of the top cars we saw last week at Richmond will do well. New Hampshire, Phoenix, and Richmond all tie nicely together in regards to set-ups. Johnson and Tony Stewart looked great last week, but we’re stubborn and believe Hamlin had the car to beat. I like the sweep trend at New Hampshire. Johnson did it in 2003, Kurt Busch did it in 2004, and Stewart should have in 2005. Hamlin has never finished worse than sixth on this track.

1. #11 Denny Hamlin 6/1
2. #20  Tony Stewart  8/1
3.  #48 Jimmie Johnson  5/1
4. #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr 15/1
5. #5 Kyle Busch 10/1
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