Four races to go.
NASCAR stops in Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond remains before we settle on the twelve men who will battle for the Cup Series championship. Who gets in? Who falls short?
I feel as we head into Michigan, the dozen who occupy the Chase spots will be the same ones celebrating on the stage in Richmond when that race ends.
It is safe to say the top-level performers will stay put. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards are all running well.
In a week to week evaluation a majority of this group is dominating the top of the results. Which is self-explanatory because that is why they are in the positions they are in.
The battle for twelfth involves Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Mark Martin on the inside and defending their turf. Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne are outside and trying to get the door to open.
I predict Kenseth, Biffle and Martin will hold serve.
Kenseth has not been strong all year. But his team has been decent. They are not also-rans by any means. A crew chief change in mid season may elevate them to the high level status they once knew. But such personnel chemistry takes time to develop. It appears they have the legs to stay within the top ten if not at least the top twelve.
Biffle has shown some muscle in recent weeks and just could be peaking at the right time. I predicted earlier this season that he was flying under the radar and was a guy to watch. Ford’s new engine as well as some new chassis setups underneath Biffle are paying on track dividends. Kenseth could benefit from this and Edwards looks like he already is.
Martin has been disappointing when compared to last year’s true challenge for the title. But like Biffle, his performance has been elevated in recent weeks, a great time of the season to start to rise.
Bowyer, Newman, McMurray, Earnhardt and Kahne all have one trait in common: inconsistency. The entire group shows promise here and there. A good finish prompts the talk of a particular team has turned the corner and ready to go for the win every week. But a strong top five or top ten is followed with a poor performance or a did-not-finish status the very next week. They simply will fall short of making the Chase.
The champion will not come from the group fighting to get in. If you have not been good enough all year to be near the top of the points heap, you do not find magic in the last 10 races, although Biffle’s name cannot escape my thoughts as an upset winner.
Check back in November to see how I did.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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