[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]It was misery. I wish I could have been at Richmond sitting in the stands without all the commentary provided by ESPN last night. Clint Bowyer won the race, but it was almost an afterthought to Bestwick, Jarrett, and Petree. All attention was on Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, the two drivers who would finish 12th (yes, I said 12th) in the standings that lead to NASCAR’s playoff, The Chase. It was an amazing turn of events and Gordon deserves most of the credit, but there were 41 other drivers out there and one (Bowyer) was making a statement for Michael Waltrip Racing that was just as amazing. Drama, yes, but truth be told, Gordon has little chance at a championship given his team’s record in 2012.
I know the argument. Tony Stewart did it last year. So did the NFL’s NY Giants and baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, but this is not football or basketball and there are a lot of good teams in the final 12 that won’t be sitting down and doing nothing these last 10 races. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No. Gordon has one win this season and that came when his teammate and Matt Kenseth decided to drive too hard and the rains came. I am looking forward to the mustache coming back on Jeff, though. Reminds me of the time we chatted at Myrtle Beach Speedway back when he was running the No. 1 Ford sponsored by Baby Ruth candy bars. Nice kid then and nice man now, so he was not the problem last night. The race telecast, however, was.
Let’s look at the Chase competitors and see who just might have the upper hand.
1. Denny Hamlin – The driver who came on strong in the final few races has the point for the final run to the Sprint Cup Championship. He finished 8th in the regular season standings, but bonus points for winning (he had four wins, which was more than anyone else) put him first with 2012 points, only three ahead of Jimmie Johnson.
2. Jimmie Johnson – He sits three points behind Hamlin. Finishing the regular season in 10th place, he won three races, had more top fives and top tens than Hamlin. He also has won this five times.
3. Tony Stewart – He sits in a three way tie for second, but we’ll use third because he won three races and is the defending champ. Tony wasn’t very consistent this year, but we all know that what he did last year proves he can do it again.
4. Brad Keselowski – Also tied for second place, Keselowski won three races and like Stewart isn’t Jimmie Johnson. Brad finished fifth in the regular season standings.
5. Greg Biffle – The regular season champion (that and $1.00 will get you a sweet tea at McDonald’s) now sits six points behind Hamlin. Seeing himself behind four drivers that he led by double digit points has to be upsetting, but this is a new season.
6. Clint Bowyer – In case you haven’t heard, he won the Richmond race, and with two wins sits in a tie with Biffle for fifth and sixth. He finished seventh in the regular season standings and has been coming on in recent weeks.
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior sits nine points behind Hamlin and won at Michigan. He finished second to Biffle in the regular season standings. The fan favorite has to make up those nine points, knowing he has three teammates to battle to get there.
8. Matt Kenseth – Tied with Earnhardt for seventh and eighth, he finished third in the regular season standings, but only had one win, the Daytona 500.
9. Kevin Harvick – Harvick had a rough season with no wins and only four top five finishes. He was also ninth in the regular season standings.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – The final three positions all have 2000 points, 12 behind the leader. Truex came close, but didn’t win in 2012. Consistency got him up to sixth in the regular season standings and his car has looked better lately.
11. Kasey Kahne – Kahne had a horrible start to 2012 which explains why the bonus points for his two wins still has him in Wild Card territory. He finished 11th in the regular season standings, but improved as the year went along.
12. Jeff Gordon – Unless you without a scanner and sitting in the stands in Richmond last night or just didn’t watch, you know the story of Gordon’s frantic march to get the last place in The Chase. He won only one race and was involved in various crashes and missteps as the season progressed.
For those who care, the field is made up of six Chevrolet’s, three Toyota’s, two Fords, and one Dodge. Combined, the drivers participating in The Chase have 13 Sprint Cup championships, though nine of those belong to two drivers – Gordon and Johnson.