Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were both having respectable runs at Chicagoland until their races went up in smoke…literally. Engine failures ended their days prematurely and the pair brought home disappointing results of 35th and 37th in the chase opener. The rain delay that forced NASCAR to finish at night definitely had a deleterious effect on the engines which may have consequently ended the dreams of two championship hopefuls very early in this chase…the nose damage to the No.88 may have been the reason for Dale’s motor giving up though. Whatever the reason, the fact is that these two are now 52 and 53 points back of the leader which is a margin that will certainly be difficult to make up. Can it be done? Of course it can; especially with Talladega on the schedule but history says that they can’t do it.
Last Place In Points After Chase Race #1
2012: Jeff Gordon was 47pts out and went on to finish 10th in the standings
2011: Denny Hamlin was 41pts out and went on to finish 9th in the standings
2010: Clint Bowyer went on to finish 10th in the standings with the old points system
2009: Kasey Kahne went on to finish 10th in the standings
2008: Matt Kenseth went on to finish 11th in the standings
2007: Kurt Busch went on to finish 7th in the standings
2006: Kyle Busch went on to finish 10th in the standings (10 Driver Chase Field)
2005: Kurt Busch went on to finish 10th in the standings
2004: Jeremy Mayfield went on to finish 10th in the standings
If the pattern continues, these two will most likely finish 9th or worse in points this year. The deficit they now face is more than a race’s worth of points but if they can be spot on the rest of the season while others use up their mulligans; they can definitely work their way back into contention. Unfortunately, I don’t see Earnhardt or Logano being able to put together nine consecutive perfect races although a large contingent of the NASCAR fan base, aka JR Nation would argue otherwise.
Eventual Champion’s Points Position After Chase Race #1
History also tells us that Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch will most likely come away with the championship this year. Only twice in the chase’s nine year history has the eventual champion left the first race worse than 2nd in points. On both occasions, it was 5-time champ Jimmie Johnson. That 9th place in ’06 really stands and it was only a ten person chase at that time so how did Jimmie come back to win the title after that? He had five consecutive top two finishes at the end of the year; that’s how. With six races to go; he was still back in 8th spot. It would take an incredible run like the one Johnson had to put yourself back into contention for the championship after a dismal start to the chase.
We used to talk about mulligans in the chase and how everyone has one that they can use. That’s no longer the case. With how competitive the Sprint Cup Series has become, you have to be perfect with no mistakes in every single race from Chicagoland all the way to Homestead. In 2011, Carl Edwards finished 2nd in the final three races of the year, led laps in eight of the ten chase races, put together seven top five’s, nine top 10’s and his worst finish in those ten weeks was 11th but it still wasn’t enough to win the championship!
I think this year’s chase is going to be the most competitive one ever. I feel that there are about ten drivers with a legitimate shot at the title but Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Johnson are the obvious favorites. Those three also dominated the regular season but when we left Richmond; it was Carl Edwards leading the points so it’s anyone’s guess who will hoist the Cup in November. I believe that this chase will be about survival and winning will be a necessity to keep your title hopes alive. It will come down to the final race, the final laps and maybe even the last corner of the last lap.