Three night races are all that remain before the 2013 chase field is set. The sand in the hour glass is running out and the time to make something happen is now. The tension in the garage is palpable and the intense feeling of trepidation among the teams in the danger zone is growing with every passing race. Procuring a chase berth means you have a shot to become the next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) titlist. Glory, money and a place among NASCAR’s immortals; that is what they are all fighting for. They are fighting to ensure the longevity of their titles hopes…it’s an obvious fact that you can”t win the championship if you don’t secure a spot in the chase first
Multi-million dollar sponsors pay to see you put their car in the elite twelve. Millions of loyal fans cheer you on until their voices become raspy because they want to see you make postseason headlines. The pressure to succeed is always there but it isn’t truly felt until this time of the year rolls around. The stakes are high and failure isn’t an option for chase hopefuls although failure will be the inevitable result of the futile efforts by some. A position suddenly means so much more now and you will see drivers throw a whole race away as they try desperately to gain just one more point; the point that could make their season or break it. The innocuous driving that we’ve watched all year will rescind as we get closer and closer to Richmond. This is a race within a race; one none of these men are willing to lose.
To earn your place in the 2013 chase, you must first conquer the treacherous Bristol Motor Speedway. When you go to Bristol, you leave your manners at the entrance gate. The racing will be rough, tempers will flare, sparks will fly under the lights and sheet metal will most certainly be twisted into 3,000lb piles of smoldering wreckage. To survive Bristol, a driver must take what they can and give nothing back. They must race every lap like it’s the last because if they don’t, the race leader will be knocking on their rear bumper shortly as he proceeds to lap the field. A driver can be their own worst enemy at this concrete Colosseum and out of control emotions have ruined the races of even the greatest racers in the past. This track will bring you to your knees and is notorious for destroying the dreams of many chase hopefuls in a heartbeat.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is no Bristol but it’s no walk in the park either. At speeds that will break the 200mph barrier and restarts that will see the pack fanning out three and four wide; a steady hand on the wheel and nerves of steel are a necessity at this historic venue. This is the penultimate race before the chase commences so a bad run here will most likely doom the chase hopes for that individual. The last ten winners at Atlanta all went on to make the chase; 2006 was the last time that didn’t happen. This race is notorious for being hard on engines making patience a virtue and drivers must walk the thin line of aggression and over driving as they try to get all they can without making any imprudent decisions. That’s why drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have all excelled here.
Lastly, we have Richmond. Richmond will be all or nothing for a lot of people while others will do their best to survive the inevitable short track carnage that will ensue and bring home a solid finish…easier said than done. Being a short track and the final race to make something happen; Richmond will definitely put on one hell of a show. Desperate drivers will do desperate things in order to get their team in the chase and then there are always the ones that are already locked in but want some more of those precious bonus points. Carl Edwards knows all to well how important those bonus points can be. It will be a wild night under the lights at Richmond; you can be sure of that. The race will feature some of the most aggressive driving of the year and with everything that’s on the line; there’s sure to be some incensed drivers when the dust settles.
With all this being said, one looming question remains…who will make the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup chase?
The Solid Six – “The solid 6″ is what I’m calling the top six in points right now. They are Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Four of them have won multiple races, everyone in the top five is a full race ahead of 11th and all of them have shown a lot of muscle this year either by winning or with consistency. They will all surely make the chase unless something catastrophic or unforeseen happens like the unfortunate situation with Tony Stewart.
The Danger Zone –This label is applied to the drivers just barely within or just outside the top 10 and are currently winless in 2013. Those drivers are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon. We have quite an impressive group of drivers in this category but despite how good of a driver they all are; some will miss out on a chance at the 2013 championship. Dale Jr. has only recently had his name added to this anxious and nervous list after a few poor finishes have all but caused his cushion over 11th to vanish. Jr. is is not known to win many races so that might make his fans a little nervous with him so close to the cutoff. I have some good news though…the next three tracks are all ones Earnhardt has been fast at in the past so you shouldn’t be too concerned about him unless the bad luck that has hindered him lately continues.
Here’s something no one saw coming…defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski has yet to win this year and is right on the edge of falling out of the top 10. Last month, I would have told you that he’s done but my opinion has been altered after his last three performances. The No.2 team seems to have finally found their niche again and are back to clicking away great runs on a weekly basis. Bristol is one of Brad’s best tracks and I firmly believe that the reigning champ will have a presence in the chase this year.
Speaking of champs…how about Jeff Gordon? He finds himself in the middle of the danger zone and he’s beginning to make that a habit lately to the displeasure of his many fans but 4-time seems to always get the job done in the end. I’m sorry but the feel good story of Richmond last year won’t do it again in 2013 and that’s not a knock on Jeff. His team hasn’t shown much strength this year and look no further than the Pure Michigan 400 for proof of that. I don’t see them pointing this sinking ship in the right direction in time to make the chase but they will hopefully turn it around in 2014.
Kurt Busch is another former champion that’s trying to hold his ground in the top 10 with no wins. He has turned a lot of heads this year driving for Furniture Row Racing. He’s made that team a contender on a weekly basis and if fate was kinder (and his pit crew was faster/made less mistakes), he’d have multiple wins already. Based on the way they are performing at every kind of track this year, I see the flat black No.78 in the chase this year. He he will most certainly win a race in 2013 but maybe not before Richmond so I count on him holding his own inside the top 10.
Wild Card Race – This category is fairly self-explanatory. It’s the guys that have wins but find themselves in the danger zone. They are Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Kasey Kahne is the only driver in this group that has multiple wins in 2013 and he will definitely make the chase in my opinion either via a wild card or by positioning himself inside the top 10. He’s shown a lot of muscle this year and I’m sticking to my prediction that I made back in March; he will be a threat for the championship regardless of his recent travails.
I believe that Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr will both put up a valiant effort but in the end, it will be to no avail. I see “lame duck” Ryan Newman taking the wild card while these two endure a very poignant moment as they realize that a chase berth has slipped through their fingers. Newman is motivated and has something to fight for besides just a spot in the chase which makes him a much more volatile opponent. He’s also Stewart-Haas’ only hope to win the title now and it would be foolish to underestimate the tenacity and determination of the “Rocket Man.” I predict that he will make his way into the chase at the expense of Truex Jr. and Biffle.
The proverbial wild card in this wild card race has to be Joey Logano. His win in the “Motor City” gained him credence as a threat for the wild card but my feelings regarding Joey’s chase chances are still ambivalent. A driver becomes unpredictable after tasting victory lane for the first time this far into a season. They may suddenly go on a tear and catapult themselves into chase contention or they may just quietly miss out on all the postseason fun.
Just look at Ryan Newman for proof of what I’m talking about. He has spent a lot more time up front since his surprise win in the Brickyard 400. I’ve always said that motivation and confidence has an uncanny way of giving a driver a few extra horses under the hood. Joey had a great run at Bristol in March before Denny Hamlin found his rear bumper so don’t count this guy out but only time will tell if he is truly a contender or just a pretender.
All Or Nothing – The “all or nothing” guys is a very dangerous contingent of drivers due to the obvious fact that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The only way to keep their chase hopes alive is if they win. They are the drivers in the teens that have no wins and haven’t shown that they have the ability to make a run for the top 10. Said drivers are Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola. All three of them are stretches to make the chase and would most likely need two wins to make it. I highly doubt that any of them will get even one win before the chase but the chance is still there so keep an eye on them if any of the three should end up winning Bristol or Atlanta.
It will be very interesting as we watch the best NASCAR has to offer battle tooth and nail to procure a cede in the 2013 chase in these final three races. Now I’d like to hear your thoughts…feel free to post your theories on who makes the chase below and I’d love to debate it with you!