As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Chicagoland Speedway for the Geico 400 the NASCAR world awaits the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. A year ago there were two clear cut favorites to win the Championship. Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
As we await one of the most anticipated races of the season the 2013 Chase has no clear cut favorite. It's been a different year as teams are still learning the generation six racecar. Several teams have run really strong at times, while others have struggled. Even five time champion Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet have struggled in the last four races.
Leading the points in the Chase is Matt Kenseth with five wins in the 2013 season. Kenseth has shown some dominance in the 2013 season and has also struggled. He has won at several different style of race tracks. He won at Las Vegas for his first win at Joe Gibbs Racing, then won at Kansas and Darlington. His fourth win of the season came at Kentucky and his last win was at Bristol in August. Kenseth has led 1149 laps so far through 26 races, which is more than doubled what he led in all of 2012 and also already more than he has led in any season in his career. However, he only has six top five finishes and his team has had some engine problems. Some bad luck has gotten Kenseth in trouble so the question remains. Can the #20 team put ten strong races together to win the championship? That remains to be seen.
Jimmie Johnson is three points behind Kenseth in the Chase standings and has four wins in the 2013 season. He won the season opening Daytona 500 in February and was able to win Martinsville and Pocono and won the July 400 mile race at Daytona. He had led the points for most of the regular season and shown strength. However, the team has struggled badly the last four races. At Michigan the team lost an engine and finished 40th. He got involved in an accident at Bristol and the following week at Atlanta he crashed with Jeff Burton and it hurt his performance. He finished 28th. Richmond was a disaster from start to finish and it seems that the #48 team has hit a lull. They are no longer the clear cut favorite that they might have been before the last four weeks.
Sitting third is Kyle Busch. Busch won at Fontana, Texas, Watkins Glen and Atlanta. Three of his four wins have come on what some folks like to call "cookie cutter" tracks, which is odd considering Busch is such a great short track driver. Considering five of the ten Chase races are "cookie cutter" tracks it could bode well for Busch. However, he is in the same boat as Kenseth and the team may lose it for him. He also struggles at the flat tracks and has never won at Martinsville, which could be a big factor in the Chase.
Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards sit fourth and fifth in the standings and both drivers have two wins in 2013. Harvick won at Richmond and Charlotte in May and has been the best RCR driver by far. The same can be said about Edwards, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards won at Phoenix and the last time out at Richmond. Harvick is interesting because he really hasn't dominated races. He led only three laps in his win at Richmond and just 28 in his win at Charlotte. Edwards in my opinion has a better shot at winning the Chase than Harvick, who is also a lame duck driver as he is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
As far as other championship contenders go there are just two in my eyes. The first driver is Kasey Kahne. Obviously Kahne's back is against the wall to start the Chase because he is missing his bonus points. Kahne has shown that he can run with Matt Kenseth, especially on the "cookie-cutter" racetracks. If Kahne can have some things go his way, there is no telling where this team can run. Joey Logano has also shown strength on the cookie cutter tracks and that could be huge for the team. If he and his crew chief Todd Gordon can grow together and get off to a hot start they could be a factor in the Chase.
The lame duck drivers of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch are just happy to be there and while both are on really good teams and are good drivers, they have yet to prove to be championship contenders. The same can be said for Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. They've had a real consistent season, but the Chase system is about wins not being consistent. Greg Biffle and his team haven't really run strong at all in 2013.
While there are some drivers who seem to eliminate themselves there is no clear cut favorite to win the championship. With that fact alone, it should be an exciting last ten races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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