Williams: This Cup Chase Has Been Biz-zarre
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Matt Kenseth’s Saturday night Bank of America 500 victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the half way point in a title chase that has displayed only one characteristic – unpredictability.
In fact, third-place finisher and points leader Carl Edwards readily admits “this season’s not like others.” He believes it will “come down, literally, to the last few laps at Homestead” before this year’s champion is determined.
The uniqueness of this year’s Chase was evident from the beginning. First, there was no clear-cut favorite for the title when the Chase began. Then, until the series outing at CMS, one of five1.5-mile tracks in the 10-race Chase, the position atop the standings had a different look ever week. After the Chase’s opening race, it was Kevin Harvick by seven points over Tony Stewart. Then it was Stewart by seven over Harvick. Following Dover, Harvick and Edwards were tied for the lead. Edwards took the top spot by one over Harvick at Kansas, then increased it to five over the Richard Childress Racing driver at CMS.
Kenseth, in third, now trails Roush Fenway Racing teammate Edwards by seven points. Kyle Busch, who finished second at CMS, is fourth, 18 points in arrears.
Jimmie Johnson, who said he didn’t believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx but admitted entering the race he was stressing over the cars’ unpredictable nature, now finds himself in an unusual situation.
With five races remaining, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion sits eighth in the standings, 35 points behind Edwards.
After being seeded sixth for the Chase, Johnson used two races – Dover and Kansas — to recover from a 29-point deficit. He entered the Charlotte weekend in third, a mere four points behind leader Edwards. Then came lap 317 of the 334-lap Charlotte race when Johnson took a vicious head-on hit into the second turn outside wall. That left him 34th in the finishing order and eighth in the standings – 35 points behind Edwards. It was Johnson’s worst finish in a Chase race since 2009 when he placed 38th at Texas.
“Definitely not the night we wanted,” Johnson said. “There are five races left and right now all we have are those five races. We will go out and give 100 percent and see where it shakes out.”
For Johnson to rebound and have a shot at his unprecedented sixth straight title, veteran team owner Jack Roush said the southern California native must “stand in line and wait for the other folks in the top 5 to have problems for him to get back in it.”
“He won’t race his way back in it,” Roush continued. “He won’t finish high enough above the top four or five cars to beat them on the race track. He’ll have to wait for them to have trouble, I think.”
However, none of the drivers discount Johnson.
“He could go on a tear and be leading the points in three or four weeks,” Edwards commented.
Ironically, Kenseth, with three victories this season, still doesn’t have a sponsor for 2012. Yet, the Wisconsin native isn’t worried and he’s quietly carving a path that could lead to his second series
“It seems like those Wisconsin guys are awfully quiet most of the time,” commented Busch, who has yet to win a Chase race. “They will squeak it out there at the end and leave you in the dust.”
Kenseth believes the 1.5-mile tracks remaining in the Chase – Texas and Homestead – favor the Roush Fenway cars.
“Those are the two I’m looking forward to the most,” Kenseth said after winning his first Chase race since 2007 at Homestead. “It’s weird going to Homestead because it’s the last race of the year, it’s a different layout, we race there one time a year and you get there and it almost feels like a new track every time you go there.”
Entering Talladega next weekend, two of the top three positions in the standings belong to Roush Fenway.
“We have a lot of depth in the organization,” Roush calmly noted. “We had seven of our cars [Fords] tonight that ran in the top 10 most of the night. We are at the top of our game as far as our mile-and-a-half program. There’s other teams that have got good programs, but nobody has got a better mile-and-half program than us.
“We are in championship form. In my 24 years, I’ve never had better cars for the championship stretch than we have got and we are anxious to see how it’s going to work out.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments