Welcome back for the second installment of my review of all 16 chase drivers! Earlier this week I posted about the bottom half of the bracket, but now let's get to the cream of the crop! The top 8 contains the clear cut favorites for this years championship. With names such as Johnson, Logano, and Busch, the Chase is heating up very nicely. Honestly, this year could be even better than last years 10-weeks mad dash for the title. Well let's get into it, I will start with the #8 seed and work all the way to #1, hope you enjoy!
8. Carl Edwards: 2 Win's, 3 Top 5's, 9 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 16.2
Cousin Carl... the guy that manages to look like a contender. Now, I could be completely wrong but I believe the #19 team is not a real contender. Edwards has one of the worst average finishes entering this Chase, but since he won recently people think he will do damage. Edwards has been the odd man out most weeks at JGR, but has managed to find victory lane twice. Though I personally don't like his chances, Edwards can win the championship. If he can throw together some solid finishes Edwards could make it to Homestead. I think he is a lock to make it out of the first round, but the second and third rounds get a little more iffy. If Edwards does make it to Homestead don't count him out. They say you have to lose one to win one, and Edwards has lost two. Maybe the third time will indeed be the charm.
7. Kurt Busch: 2 Win's, 8 Top 5's, 14 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 10.9 (Missed first 3 races)
Kurt Busch started off the season a little rocky. After missing the first 3 races of the season under suspension for something he was eventually found not guilty for, Busch had started behind the 8 ball. Since stepping into the #41 car this season Busch has found speed. Running up front and competing for wins has put Busch comfortably inside of the Chase, and two win's never hurts. Sitting as a mid-pack contender Busch will need to do what he does best, run fast and finish the job. He doesn't necessarily need to win, but a W wouldn't be a bad thing to have. Look for Busch to run solidly inside the top-10 and transfer to the second round with ease. The round of 8 is not impossible for Busch, but with the level of competition this year, the 2004 champion will need to step up his game and be the outlaw he is claimed to be.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 2 Win's, 12 Top 5's, 17 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 10.2
Looking at statistics, this is Junebugs best season of his career. Jr. has been quietly consistent all year long, which has solidified his spot as a legitimate contender. If you have read my blogs before you know that I am not a big fan of Dale Jr., but I know when to give credit when it is due. Jr., is the second strongest Hendrick driver coming into the playoffs, and if he can keep up the consistency he has a chance to go deep. I don't think he is quiet 'clutch' enough to make it to the championship round, but Jr. could very easily make it to the elite 8. I think Dale will coast through the first round, and the second round brings Talladega, and we all know Jr. is the favorite to win that race. The #88 car will definitely be a force early on, but the late stretches of the season will be when Jr. needs to step up and become a real championship contender.
5. Kevin Harvick: 2 Win's, 18 Top 5's, 22 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 7.7
The defending champion walks into the chase with one of the best average finishes of all drivers, leading in top-5's and top-10's. Harvick has been locked in since week 3, but hasn't won since March. With a modern record of 10 second place finishes Harvick has clearly been the most consistent driver in NASCAR. The only issue this #4 team could encounter is that without finding victory lane things are going to get real hard. Now, Harvick will probably find victory lane sometime in the next 10 weeks, but Richmond was not a good way to start off chase season. Finishing 14th, Harvick had one of his worst races all season. I do believe Harvick will rebound and easily walk through the first two rounds. I personally have Harvick making it to the championship race, but nothing is guaranteed, and he must find victory lane if he wants to go back-to-back.
4. Joey Logano: 3 Win's, 16 Top 5's, 20 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 7.2
Slice Bread himself is in the middle of one of his best seasons. It seems that the move to Penske just a few short years ago has prevailed, as Logano emerges as a championship favorite yet again. The #22 team made it to Homestead last year with a chance, but had a mistake cost them. This year Logano looks to take advantage of his opportunities and finally become the Sprint Cup champion he was expected to be at Gibbs. The formula is very VERY simple for Logano, just keep doing what he has been doing all season. Logano needs to keep running top-10, squeak in some top-5's, and maybe steal a win or two, but then again Logano doesn't really steal wins these days he takes them! Logano is in my final 4 for the championship but I don't know if he can win when it comes to one race, one night, with just one chance to take home the title. Hopefully he can prove me wrong, and honestly I won't be surprised if he does.
3. Matt Kenseth: 4 Win's, 10 Top 5's, 16 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 13.3
Matt Kenseth is arguably the hottest driver on the circuit coming into the chase. With 3 wins in the last six races, who can argue that the #20 team has become a legitimate contender. Though I don't fully believe in Kenseth's ability to win the title, he should have a shot. Kenseth simply needs to run top-10 maybe get a win and he should be sittin easy for the first few weeks. He should coast through the first round, and should be able to transfer to the elite 8 as I call it. I know Kenseth is hot right now, but I can't see him making it to the championship round. Kenseth is more of a consistency driver, not a clutch driver who can go balls to the wall and take home a title on the grandest stage. I could be wrong, after all he is a former champion. I am not saying Kenseth doesn't have what it takes, but I personally believe this chase format does not fit his style.
2. Kyle Busch: 4 Win's, 6 Top 5's, 9 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 11.4 (Missed first 11 races)
Kyle 'Shrub' Busch has impressed us all. Now, we have all gotten tired of NBC mentioning him every 30 seconds, but Busch has earned respect in the garage. Regardless of how you feel about the driver of the #18, you have to give credit when it is due. He played the game how it was supposed to be played. He deserves to be here, and has rightfully earned his #2 seed in this chase. With 4 wins already under his belt, the injury is no longer an excuse, and Busch should be fully recovered now. Busch has continued to run up front, but I am going to say this here and stick with this through the chase, KYLE BUSCH WILL NOT WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. Though I could end up eating my words, this system does not fit Busch. Kyle has always had bad luck in the chase, even in his best season in 2008. Every year it seems that Busch finds a way to set himself back early on. Now, obviously this system allows a driver to recover from mistakes, but Busch will need to get back to his winning ways if he wants to become a Sprint Cup Series champion.
1. Jimmie Johnson: 4 Win's, 11 Top 5's, 17 Top 10's AVG FINISH: 12.1
Good ole 6-time. How could anyone possibly count this guy out? Johnson has had a rough season, but then again when did a season with 4 wins count as a bad one? Coming off his worst points finish of his career, Johnson looks to make a little more noise this season. Johnson wasn't even a threat last year, at which he can thank NASCAR for. Many fans believe the Chase was changed to stop Johnson, and whether or not that is true, he has to learn to win in whatever system they design. For Jimmie to tie Earnhardt and Petty he will need to find victory lane, something he hasn't done in a few months. Honestly, I think the driver of the #48 isn't the problem, Hendrick Motorsports needs to figure things out before the expect one of their drivers to emerge as a favorite for the title. Though Johnson is the #1 seed he is realistically the 4th or 5th best driver in the series right now. He has been quiet and names like Harvick, Kenseth, and Logano are all standing in the way of his record tying seventh championship. Johnson has the talent and could easily win this thing, but he has also never won at Homstead, something that could come in to play in 10 weeks.
Well thanks for reading my second installment!!! Look for my Chase bracket breakdown in a couple of days!!! As always tell me what you think about what I said above!