“In baseball, you don’t know nuthin’.” Yogi Berra’s observation of America’s pastime is also true of NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship.” Just when you think a driver can’t be beat, he goes into a nosedive. Just when you think a driver can’t find his fanny with both hands, he goes on a tear. It’s tempting to think that one of the drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing has it won.
Who would blame for betting that way? Matt Kenseth is the flavor of the week just after his win at Richmond. Teammate Carl EZdwards was a winner just over a week ago at Darlington. Kyle Busch has more than made up for lost time with his combination of wins and fine finishes, and Denny Hamlin is just as capable of winning it all as well, in spite of his aches and pains. You talk about peaking at the right time, JGR is putting up numbers we’re used to seeing from Hendrick Motorsports.
You’ll excuse me if I am not quite so eager to perform a coronation right here. The memories of 2008 are too vivid. Kyle Busch OWNED NASCAR in the spring and summer months, and took a dive when The Chase got underway. Jimmie Johnson mustered what he needed for his third consecutive championship, but not before Greg Biffle- who has a relatively quite regular season- caught fire in the Chase.
How about 2011? Do you remember what Tony Stewart said at Richmond that his team didn’t deserve as spot in The Chase. No sooner than he says that, Smoke reeled off wins at Chicago, Martinsville, Dover, Texas and Homestead- good enough to earn a tie with Carl Edwards, and grab a championship on the basis of wins.
In a season, ten races is a long time. The search for the competitive edge is such that a team can be out in front of the competition at the beginning of a season, and look like their running in quicksand at season’s end. Remember when HMS and Hendrick-affiliated Stewart-Haas was rocking it at the beginning of the season? Jimmie Johnson says speed has been hard to find in the 48 car as of late.
Now I know there are conspiratorial fans who will claim that Johnson and Knaus are sandbagging it and will come into The Chase with guns a blazing. I don’t know about sandbagging, but it’s not hard to imagine they re-visit the recipe book, and tweak the formula in such a way they are more competitive. Not only is it not Jimmie Johnson’s first rodeo, he and teammate Jeff Gordon are capable of winning anywhere.
Not only that, the elimination format for The Chase puts a particular fire in the belly of hard-chargining chasers like Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, who aren’t afraid of removing obstacles from their path to victory. What’s more, Harvick has either won or been on the cusp of victory all season. Joey Logano is in that same conversation, and so is Dale Earnhardt Jr. for that matter.
Quick poll here, who thought Ryan Newman would be in a position to win a championship in 2014? He came close to pulling it off, and this Chase format lends itself to a driving just well enough to stay ahead of trouble and avoid elimination down to the very end.
All of this is to say, you can be sure we’re not sure who will win the 2015 edition of The Chase. There are probably a half dozen drivers who are in a better position to win it than the other ten. With that being said, how many times has a guy like Jamie McMurray come out of nowhere to win a big race? It happened before, it can happen again.
Love the Chase, or hate the Chase, you can’t deny the element of the unknown. A certified great could cement his legacy with yet another championship, Jeff Gordon could ride off into the sunset with a title, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin or Dale Jr. could grab that brass ring that has eluded them, or we could end up with a Cinderella story a la Martin Truex Jr. or Jamie Mac.