How fitting that this week’s race at Kansas bears the name of a casino. The 2011 Chase, so far, has resembled a high speed game of chance with a reshuffling of the leaderboard each week. First, it was Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch at the top, then Tony Stewart, and now, Harvick and Carl Edwards lead the way. That’s to say nothing of the comings and goings in the other 11 spots. Going into the the Hollywood Casino 400, there’s one certainty: there’s no certainty of a clear favorite. 

Check this out: in June’s race at Kansas, every one of the top nine finishers were Chase drivers, from race winner Brad Keselowski to ninth place Kurt Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and current points co-leader Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. But wait, there’s more….

You remember that Tony Stewart guy everyone was fussing over just a few days ago? He finished eighth at Kansas in June, but more importantly, Smoke joins Greg Biffle as the only two-time race winner at the intermediate track.

A further investigation into track history bears a familiar list of luminaries. While Greg Biffle boasts the highest average finish at Kansas, he’s followed closely by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Edwards and Stewart. Keselowski and Harvick aren’t all that far behind either.

Historically speaking, about the only contender with a bad history here is Kyle Busch, who has one lone top ten in eight career Cup races. Rowdy’s 22.4 average looks pretty pedestrian compared top the other title contenders, and his brother Kurt isn’t much better with a career average of 19.0. In this year of the unpredictable, I’m not sure I would go against them. This seems to be one of those years where history goes out the window, especially with Kurt coming off the Dover win, and Kyle with the potential to win just about anywhere.

In terms of parity and competition, it’s hard to beat what the 2011 Chase has provided. Only 19 points separates ninth place Jeff Gordon from the leaders, and this was the guy that appeared to have all the momentum coming into Chicagoland. Tony Stewart barely made NASCAR’s postseason, and promptly won two in a row out of the gate. Jimmie Johnson is coming on, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick are steady, but as Stewart will attest from Dover, you can go from NASCAR’s equivalent of Phil Ivey to the next bad beat story with the turn of a card.

About all we really know right now is Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman are virtually out and Dale Jr. isn’t far behind. Beyond that, there’s no way of really knowing what will happen in the next turn. One thing’s for sure, there’s no river rats in this game, and luck may figure in just as much as skill. Just remember, it is said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. For whom will that meeting take place? Spotting the donkey at this table isn’t an easy task.

Other articles by Jim McCoy include….

A Smoldering Stewart Is A Successful Stewart
Chicago Shakeup Adds Intrigue
Jeff Gordon’s Drive For Five Is Alive