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NASCAR Race to the Chase 1 Week Away
Posted September 08, 2011 at 05:46 pm 0 COMMENTS Bookmark and Share

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is heating up with only one week before the start of NASCAR’s equivalency to a playoff.  This week’s race at Richmond will be a fight for the bubble drivers vying for the final spots in the Chase for the Cup.  Eight drivers have clinched positions in the Chase and which leaves 4 positions up for grabs.  Realistically, the drivers currently in positions 9-12 should be joining the chase, but anything can happen.  Earnhardt Jr. (currently in 9th) and Stewart (currently 10th) are in great positions to make the Chase if they can finish the race Saturday in Richmond.

“Little E” needs this more than probably any other driver in NASCAR.  He’s had a rough run the last few seasons and has not become the dominating superstar as his fans had hoped.  Earnhardt is in desperate need of a win.  It’s been 110 starts since Junior’s last win and the timing, if he could pull off a win in Richmond, could not be better.  He finished 34th in the 2010 Richmond race and an equally poor finish this week could put him on the sidelines again -- watching as his teammates compete for yet another title.  With no wins to compete for the wild card position, Earnhardt must have a strong finish Saturday to ensure he secures a place in the Chase.

Tony “Smoke” Stewart has been tough on himself and his team this year, demanding more consistency and success.  Who can blame him?  I think this passion and self evaluation is the only way to become better in such a competitive sport.  Tony is definitely on the bubble, but holds his Chase faith in his own hands.  Finish strong on Saturday and he’s in.  Stewart finished 16th last year and with a similar finish this year, he will secure one of the final spots in the Chase.  Of course, a win would be the best situation possible.  With zero wins in 2011, if Stewart drops one position in the standings, he will be out.  I think Stewart and his team are savvy enough to ensure they stay out of trouble and ensure they stay in the top 10 in points.  There will definitely be much chatter on the radio during the race keeping Tony appraised of his point situation.  Barring unexpected disaster, Tony should be in the Chase when they arrive in Chicago on September 18th.

There are two wild card positions this year to reward drivers with wins that are just short of the top 10 in points.  There are two drivers in great shape to win these wild card positions.  Brad Keselowski is definitely in the Chase and may be the hottest driver, next to Jimmie Johnson, entering the playoff series for the cup.  Brad has won 3 races this year.  He’s finished in the top 10 in the last 6 races with 2 wins.  He is absolutely on fire and definitely the best young driver on the circuit.  Only Kyle Busch has more wins than Keselowski this year.  Who would have predicted that in February?   Denny Hamlin is also holding on to a wild card spot in the chase.  With a current 12th position and 1 win, the only way he will be pushed out of the chase is if Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard, or David Ragan can pull off a win on Saturday and make it into the top 20 in points with their second win.

One thing is for certain -- Saturday’s race at Richmond will be full of strategy, desperation, and sweaty palms.  The addition of the two wild card positions has been a big success for NASCAR this season and I hope it will continue to be a part of the Chase system in years to come.  Ok, now on to the most important question -- who will win the Cup?  The odds on favorite has to be Jimmie Johnson to repeat with his sixth straight championship.  Did Jimmie sell his soul to the devil???  Of course not…but who could have predicted his incredible domination of a sport that is won with a combination of great talent, incredible team work, and a whole lot of luck.  Regardless who wins, this year’s Chase will definitely be exciting once again.

Tim Jones