Jeff Gordon may have it right. Not matter how well he’s run in the last two races, getting up front and really contending for a championship may be nigh upon impossible considering what is happening at the front of the pack; especially the top three.
Kevin Harvick? I don’t think it’s his fault, but Richard Childress Racing is way off its game this year. The Jack Roush boys? You talk to some ardent Kenseth fans, and not only do they think their driver is getting thrown under the bus, they also think the Cat in the Hat is backing over the 2003 champ. I don’t know about that, but I do know that neither Kenseth not the Biff either one look like a serious threat right now.
Michael Waltrip may be a funny guy, but his team is no joke this year. With that said, neither Clint Bowyer nor Martin Truex Jr. seem quite ready to close the deal yet. Dale Junior’s no long shot, nor is Kasey Kahne, but Earnhardt can’t be unloading a “piecer” on Friday and frantically fixing it going in to Sunday. Stewart lost his steam during the summer, and while Kasey Kahne is making strides in top notch equipment, he seems to be a year away.
The point being made here is that the true race for the Chase is really down to three drivers. At the moment, handicapping a favorite is no easy task.
While do I get the feeling this may be Brad Keselowski’s title to lose? In three Chase races, he’s won two, and that is exactly how you set the tone. In fact, Bad Brad has been a beast since the end of June, with only one hiccup at Bristol. That will be the key for Keselowski; he must race smart and keep his tendency towards aggressiveness well-managed, especially at Talladega. Mentally, he sounds great, and Penske has taken good care of their golden boy.
With three wins in his last six races, Denny Hamlin is doing a pretty effective impression of Tony Stewart, 2011 vintage. Imagine finishing eighth at Dover, a track you hate, and being a little disappointed with it. Hamlin is a very emotional guy, and that can be as bad as it is good. Keeping that sports psychologist on speed dial sounds like a smart idea right now. Unlike, Keselowski, Hambone has been here before, and having Darian Grubb on your pit box is one heck of an edge.
Of course, for these young upstarts to get to the trophy stand, they must first fend of the man who’s won five championships in a row, Jimmie Johnson. He’s a winner, and with his mastery of the Chase tracks, you can’t put from your mind the very real possibility Johnson could reel off three or four wins over the next seven races. A plus for the challengers is that for all the 48’s consistency, he’s not closing the deal at the moment. That’s not very Jimmie-like. He’s a great driver, to be sure, but h’s not by any means dominating, leaving the door just enough open for someone else to pull off what Smoke did last year, and heck, even what Johnson himself did in 2007.
How intriguing that Talladega, with its unpredictability, is next on the schedule. It does leave the door open a crack for all three of these top contenders to fall prey to what happened to Jeff Gordon, and make it possible for Wonder Boy, Junior, Kasey Kahne, and even Martin Truex to re-enter the championship mix.
With that being said, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin on a week in and week out basis are showing up and showing off at the track. It’s going to take a serious reversal of fortunes to break up this three-wide race at the front.
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.
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