IT'S FINALLY HERE!!!! After waiting 26 long weeks (actually about 30) the Chase has finally arrived! Now, 16 drivers will compete over the next 10 weeks to see who will earn the crown of 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion!! In this post I want to look at the bottom half of the bracket. Here we see a mix of first time Chasers and a former champion. I want to give my opinion on how I think they could fair in this elimination style Chase! Well, let's start our engines and start breaking down drivers!!!
16. Clint Bowyer: 0 Win's, 2 Top 5's, 11 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 16.7
Bowyer, Bowyer, Bowyer, the guy who always sqeaks in by the hair on his chinny chin chin. Bowyer has been relatively quiet all year, but stringing together 5 top 10's in the last 7 races, has pushed Bowyer to the Chase for the Cup. In MWR's last season, Bowyer is showing he has top level talent. Running front while everyone around you is looking for a new job is impressive, but I think the run may be short lived. Bowyer has managed to use consistency to grab the 16th seed, but being consistent only goes so far. I think Bowyer will be lucky to make it out of the first round. Honestly, no one will know until the cookie crumbles, but Bowyer has done nothing to make me think he can contend for a title this season. In my mind Bowyer will need to take advantage of New Hampshire, something he has done twice before if he wants to continue chasing that championship.
15. Paul Menard: 0 Win's, 2 Top 5's, 4 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 16.7
Paul Menard may be, no actually is the biggest underdog in the Chase. I personally am a huge fan and have been since 2008, so I am just happy to finally see my driver transfer to the playoffs for the first time in his career. Menard has been quiet all year, and has naturally declined over the last month or two, but don't completely count him out. Obviously he is the one driver I can't see making the final 12 in any situation, but Menard could spark consistency that could help him transfer. I am predicting that Menard will not make the cut, but if he somehow manages to make it he should have a legitimate chance to make it to the elite 8 due to his skill on 1.5 mile tracks and Talladega. The only way Menard is going to have a chance is running in the top-10 and at minimum the top-15. Chicagoland could be a great weekend if the #27 team can get their act together and put together a solid top-10 finish. Looking at New Hampshire and Dover, Menard finished 25th (N. Hamp.) and 8th (Dover) at those tracks earlier this season. Menard has a chance but he normally never runs strong near the end of the season. Menard is the odd man out in everyone's bracket, but you never know what to expect when you put a driver in his first ever postseason.
14. Ryan Newman: 0 Win's, 4 Top 5's, 12 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 13.8
Good ole Ryan Newman is Mr. Consistency again. Just like last season Newman has managed to sneak his way into the Chase. The #31 team has yet to find victory lane but has done a solid job putting themselves into the playoffs. Newman walks into the 2015 Chase hoping to drive his way to Homestead just like he did last season. I will agree that Newman is basically the exact driver he was last year, but I don't think he will make it to the championship race back-to-back seasons. I have Newman making it to the round of 12, but this years Chase field is much more competitive. With a solid 10 candidates to become the champion this year, Newman is not going to have the opportunity to transfer without finding victory lane. Don't get me wrong if anyone can do it, it will be Newman, but this years chasers are on a whole other level. If Newman can manage to find victory lane then you never know, but RCR as a whole is not ready to make the jump to becoming Cup champions again.
13. Jeff Gordon: 0 Win's, 3 Top 5's, 13 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 16.0
Jeff "The Legend, Big Daddy" Gordon will be making his 11th Chase appearance this season. Gordon who is in the middle of one of the worst seasons of his career, is looking to finish his amazing career with his 5th and final championship. Gordon who has yet to find victory lane will need to turn things around completely if he expects to hoist another championship trophy. A top-10 at Richmond is good way to start, but Gordon still needs to impress me. I am also a Gordon fan and would love to see him make a run for the title, but he won't get far running how he has the last few months. The biggest issue that bugs everyone is it seems like Gordon is doing his job, but his crew keeps finding ways to mess up great runs. Mistakes have been made by the #24 team this season, and those have to be cut out if Gordon wants to have a chance come Homestead. I think Gordon can do it, but right now I could also see him being out after the first three races. Gordon needs to win and if he can do that the whole team will be energized and ready to make a run for the Cup.
12. Jamie McMurray: 0 Win's, 2 Top 5's, 7 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 15.0
It's hard to believe that this is the first time Jamie Mac has ever made the Chase. The #1 Cessna/ McDonald's team managed to point their way in and has run solid all year. This team is another underdog team in this years playoff, but always watch out for McMurray to earn a surprise win. McMurray always finds victory lane every two to three season, and it has been awhile since Ganassi has snagged a win. Maybe it is finally time for the veteran drivers to grab another shocking win. I don't believe the 2010 Daytona 500 winner will make it past the first round, but for him to do so he will need to stretch for those extra positions and land in the top-10. McMurray has been running top-15 all year, but that will not be enough over the next few weeks. If McMurray can transfer never count him out at Talladega which would place him even closer to that oh so beautiful Sprint Cup Series championship trophy.
11. Denny Hamlin: 1 Win, 9 Top 5's, 13 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 14.1
Denny Hamlin enters the 2015 Chase with yet another chip on his shoulder. Tearing his ACL last week, Hamlin will enter the Chase with a weakness, that could cost him a championship. Now, I believe Hamlin will be fine, but injuries are injuries, and they can always throw a curve ball at even the most prepared athletes. I think Hamlin can ease his way through the first round, and as long as he performs to his ability will make it to the elite 8. Let's not forget that the #11 team was at Homestead last year with a chance, so no matter what is affecting Hamlin he has the natural talent to lead him to the promise land. I think Hamlin needs to work with his team to find is comfort zone every week. As long as he stays prepared he will continue to transfer. I can't really say what I think he needs to do because his team already has the recipe. Now, Hamlin just needs a pinch of talent, a tablespoon of good luck and he will have another opportunity to take home his first championship.
10. Martin Truex Jr.: 1 Win, 7 Top 5's, 17 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 13.2
Along with breaking Furniture Row's record of top-10's and top-5's, Truex Jr. as taught us all to be patient. Last year was terrible for the #78 team last year, in fact saying terrible may be an understatement. Coming off a season where he only found the top-10 five teams, no one had any expectations for Truex this season. After starting the season with 14 top-10 finishes in the first 15 races Truex looked like a sure fire candidate for the championship, but things have simmered down since. Truex has only managed to find the top-10, 3 out of the last 11 races. For Truex to compete for title, the team will have to find that spark they had the first half of the season. If Truex can find consistency again this team will be dangerous. I don't know if I see this team transferring to the elite 8, but they definitely have a chance. This team will be interesting to watch. As a fan I hope to see them run well, but we will see if the team can perform when all the marbles are on the line.
9. Brad Keselowski: 1 Win, 8 Top 5's, 18 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 11.3
Brad Keswolski as I call him at times has had a traditional type season. Though I would expect him to have more than 1 win at this point in the season, the #2 team is strong. Though Keselowski looks like the second best driver at Penske coming into the Chase, the 2012 champion is a name to consider when picking who you think will make it to Homestead. Keselowski hasn't won in a while which means he is due. The #2 team knows how to win in clutch moments as he proved last season at Talladega. I think all the #2 team needs to do is stick to what you do best. Run up front and finish well. Keselowski has made a handful of mistakes during the season which cost him some races, so if they can eliminate the minor mistakes this team has a shot. Honestly, I won't be surprised at all if Keso makes it to Homestead with a chance to win his second championship in four years.
Well there you go!! Thanks for reading!! Later this week I will recap the other 8 drivers so be looking for that!! Hope you enjoyed, let me know what you think!!! Be excited it's finally time for some real racing!!! The CHASE is officially here this weekend!!