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Chase starts at Loudon, could end with 3

Sep 9, 2008 6:52 PM

Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

As we enter NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship this weekend in Loudon, New Hampshire, it has become apparent that there are three drivers capable of winning the 10-race sprint.

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson have every facet of being a successful driver – momentum, organizational continuity, team communication, great equipment and just a little skill behind the wheel.

Over the last nine races it seems like the three have been playing to the tune of "Anything you can do, I can do better." No one else has won over that span and each has won three times each. The last driver other than Kyle, Carl, or Jimmie to win a race was Kyle’s big brother, Kurt, won the first New Hampshire race in late June, albeit by the help of rain.

Together, the "Big Three" have combined to win 18 of the 26 races this season.

As good as Kyle has been over a few separate long stretches this season, the last four races have gone in back-to-back fashion to Jimmie and Carl. It’s almost like Kyle is in a slump of sorts at the absolute worst time. Momentum is everything at this stage and if it wasn’t for high risk on Kyle Busch to win the Championship already, Johnson would be the favorite among the three.

True odds on the three drivers based on their career record at all the Chase tracks, driving record under pressure, and then mixing in momentum would see Johnson a 2-1 favorite, Busch 3-1 and Edwards 9-2.

The only thing going against Johnson is history. Three championships in a row for a driver is tough, and only a tough rattlesnake like Cale Yarborough (the pride of Timmonsville, South Carolina) has ever done it.

In New Hampshire we’ll likely see the exact same chassis seen last week at Richmond. All the handicapping you may have done for last week can be used almost identically for Loudon. Who are we to argue with what the crew chiefs do? If their notes are used for each track on the same chassis then it should be good enough for us to do the same.

Sprint notes:

• This year’s Chase field features four former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions: Jimmie Johnson (2006, ‘07), Tony Stewart (2002, ‘05), Matt Kenseth (2003) and Jeff Gordon (1995, ‘97, ‘98, 2001). Only Johnson has won a race this year.

• The Chase is NASCAR’s version of a playoff system and Sunday’s race at New Hampshire is akin to a first-round game.

• In 2004, the first year of the Chase format, Kurt Busch started the last 10 weeks of the year with a New Hampshire victory. He didn’t win again, but edged Johnson for the title by only eight points.

Last year, unheralded Clint Bowyer got his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory to open the Chase and third in the final standings. On the other end, an early-race accident in Loudon led to a 39th-place finish for Tony Stewart. He never recovered and ended the year sixth in points.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a championship contender again, starting the Chase as the fourth seed, with 5,010 points.

• Joey Logano’s much-anticipated NASCAR Sprint Cup debut was curtailed by the weather last week at Richmond.

Logano will drive the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota this week at New Hampshire.

Micah Roberts is a race and sports director with Station Casinos, who has contributed to GamingToday for the last 11 years.

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