The great sports sage Yogi Berra said, “In baseball, you don’t know much.” In his own homespun way, the great catcher and manager opined that the game had its own way of putting conventional wisdom on its ear. You could make what appeared to be all the right moves, but come out on the wrong end of the result. On any given day, the underdog- with a fortuitous bounce- could prevail over the favorite.
In NASCAR’s 2016 Chase that did not happen in the opening round. A stroke of good fortune got Chris Buescher in the playoffs, but his team never quite had the chops (read that funding) to survive against the big dogs. Tony Stewart is pretty much playing out the string. Chip Ganassi’s crew has acquitted themselves pretty well for the most part, aren’t quite on the same level as the survivors.
Much like the round of 32 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, handicapping the second round of the Chase is a lot more challenging. A little bum luck one race, a slow car the next, and suddenly as a result of one or two races, an otherwise top contender is gone.
Who is poised to perform for Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega? Let us ponder.
ON TOP OF THEIR GAME
Martin Truex Jr. is a no-brainer. The combination of lady luck and performance have come together- at least so far. His recent run reminds one of Harry Gant back in the early 90s. Handsome Harry had always been a respectable racer throughout his career, but then he went on a run for the ages by capturing all four Cup races run in 1991, as well as a pair of Busch Series races. It bears noting that wasn’t enough to topple Dale Earnhardt, so a Truex championship isn’t a foregone conclusion.
All four Joe Gibbs Toyotas have moved on, with defending champion Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin leading the way. Busch has enjoyed a solid campaign, with few bumps in the road. Any time Hamlin can stay healthy it’s dangerous for the competition. Hamlin is as poised for contention as he was in 2010.
New Hampshire race winner Kevin Harvick has been as close to anyone in the series to being “Mr. Consistent.” He may have races like he had at Dover last Sunday, but he always bounces back.
DON’T COUNT THEM OUT
The mojo that Busch and Hamlin have hasn’t been quite as abundant for JGR teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. It’s been documented that Kenseth is looking to shake off his recent run of bad luck in the heart of NASCAR country. Still, he has that knack for survival, and it will serve him well in this round.
Edwards has all the talent and the equipment, but it just doesn’t seem that his performance is quite on the same level as his Gibbs brethren. That could change this time.
As we said on this page earlier this week, Jimmie Johnson has looked a little closer to human in 2016. Lately- however- team 48 seems to have found something. Johnson once owned Charlotte, which was once known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway. One gets the feeling there’s plenty of magic under the hood of the 48.
The Penske boys- Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski- are a tale of two drivers. A reflective Logano seems a bit penitent concerning his behavior in this round last year. After spinning out Matt Kenseth at Kansas, Logano says his failure to reach out to the veteran cost his championship chances. This season, the pilot of the 22 has been a lot more low key.
With his take no prisoners attitude, Keselowski suffers no such angst. We’ve seen plenty of his 2 car and Logano up near the front, but not at quite the same consistency as the aforementioned drivers.
MAYBE NEXT YEAR
It’s a little hard to forecast how Kurt Busch will perform. On the plus side, “The Outlaw” has the know how to win, and thus he’s quite capable breaking on through to the third round. Lately, Busch hasn’t been quite as racy, so we’ll say Kurt could be your upset special pick, but he’ll have to raise his game to make it against this competition.
It’s nice to see a couple of fresh faces like Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon in the Chase. While they’re certainly capable, one would tend to think this go round may be more of a learning experience. There’s little room for margin of error. While one of the veterans could slip up and open a door for the wunderkinds, it’s not the way yours truly would bet.