Last week I predicted that Kyle Busch would knock Matt Kenseth out of the Chase field, leaving Kenseth and Brian Vickers on the outside looking in during the final 10 races. Even after Atlanta, where Vickers improved his chances and Busch did not, I am not going back on my words now. Below are five drivers whom I believe will be in the Chase. What do they all have in common? None of them will be hoisting a championship trophy after the Miami race.
Greg Biffle One of the stronger Roushkateers in 2009 has just not been good enough. Across the board the Roush Fenway entries have been disappointing. Some muscle has been shown here and there during the season, but Biffle should just be happy to make the Chase.
Juan Pablo Montoya The flagbearer for Earnhardt-Ganassi racing has turned some heads and garnered his sponsors some well-deserved attention. He is having a great year and will allow Chip Ganassi to participate in the Chase for the first time. But going head-to-head with the Hendrick power for ten straight races is too tall a hill to climb.
Ryan Newman The entire Stewart-Haas organization has surprised and impressed me to no end. A 35th-place team moves into the top 10 in points simply by changing seats and moving some personnel around. This is one more glaring example of how this is a people sport first and foremost. Tony Stewart’s results have shown he has an excellent handle on the feel for this car. Newman’s results show he has a good feel, just not quite as good a feel as Stewart. And being just that half step off will keep him from clinching the Cup.
Kurt Busch Strong early season performances have weakened as the year progressed. A team needs to be peaking now, not losing its confidence and momentum. Had the season’s timetable been reversed I would have more faith in picking the lead Penske wheelman for the championship. Look for him to tumble a little further in the final 10 races.
Carl Edwards I am putting a lot of weight on Edwards’s broken foot. It will be a hindrance as it heals and he tries to keep the pedal down. The strongest Ford all season has not been to Cup victory lane and this injury will not help fix that. Edwards has shown strength to keep up with the strong Chevys this year, but not enough to go around them. I predict he will follow the Hendrick chassis but that is as close as he gets. He will follow someone else as they win the Cup.
Who will win? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing he’ll be driving a Hendrick chassis/engine combination or a candy-colored Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing.
(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)