A lot can happen in ten weeks. Does the name Tony Stewart ring a bell? With no clear front runner the 2012 run to the championship is ripe for another Stewart to come along and seize the day.
Think about it, a wild card could win this season’s championship. Look at Jeff Gordon; the idea of him reeling off a run during the Chase isn’t as far fetched as you might think. Climb a mountain? Wonder Boy had to scale Mt. Everest just to make the top 12. Sure, he enters with a 12 point deficit to leader Denny Hamlin, but win a couple of races, and keeping the solid finishes when you don’t, and suddenly, he’s in the mix. Short track, intermediates, plate tracks, you name it, he’s won there.
With the points system as it is (and you can count your truly as one who actually likes it), you have to win AND be consistent. You need a WINNING car on more than one occasion. Given that, it does not bode particularly well for the winless Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr., nor does it for Tony Stewart or Kasey Kahne, both of whom can be great one week and god awful the next. While a championship for Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be huge for “The Nation” and for NASCAR, he has to close the deal, and lop some of those sub-25th place finishes off his record going forward.
If consistency is king, then it may surprise you who the leaders are in DNFs among the 12 drivers in the Chase. Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson has five races he hasn’t finished. What? Yep, Superman, meet kryptonite. Guess who has four? Points leader Denny Hamlin and Johnson’s HMS teammate Kasey Kahne. Jeff Gordon has three. Can you see how the point can be made there is no clear cut favorite?
After years of Johnson and Stewart ruling the scene, this may very well be the year of the Young Gun. Look at the wins, and look at the finishes, and fourth-seeded Brad Keselowski looks like a good bet. Eliminate a 30th place finish at the Bristol night race, and Bad Brad hasn’t finished south of 20th since the middle of April. You couple that with Denny Hamlin’s leadership in wins, you can’t count out the rise of a first-time champion.
Adding to the intrigue is the presence of Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. Think about the laughingstock this organization was in 2007 (Fuelgate anyone?). No one is questioning now the move of Bowyer from Richard Childress. Speaking of which, RCR’s off par performance does not help Happy Harvick, who is the lone representative of the team. To a lesser degree one might be able to voice the same concern for Roush Fenway’s Greg Biffle or Matt Kenseth. They’re consistent, but they need a winning car more frequently. Like Harvick, they have the skill, but there are those days where the team’s performance is not worthy of their driver. In that very same way, the mechanical issues that dog Joe Gibbs Racing have to be disconcerting for Denny Hamlin.
A lot can happen in 10 weeks. Remember how Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were neck and neck in 2008, and the only real battle Johnson got down the stretch was from Greg Biffle at the outset? You can soar like a Stewart, or you can dive bomb like a Busch, and ask yourself where he come from? Heck, if you want to, you can make a case for Kevin Harvick, or Martin Truex, or Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne, and sound pretty good doing it.
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Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division.