The cross flags are out for the 2013 Chase and this battle is far from over. We have two very volatile races coming up on the schedule in the form of the monstrous Talladega Superspeedway and the half mile paperclip better known as Martinsville. Two champions lead the way with three formidable opponents within striking distance of them. Everyone from 6th on back has lost touch with the top group as the clock winds down on the 2013 season. A plate race, a short track, a high banked mile and a half, a flat track in the middle of the desert and of course Homestead make up the final five week sprint for the Cup.
If you look at the championship standings, it’s a five man breakaway at the front with Kenseth and Johnson showing that they are going to be the ones everyone is hunting in the upcoming races. They are champions who rarely make mistakes and both display a fastidious demeanor even in the face of great adversity. Kevin Harvick trails by 29pts and not only can he handle controversy well but he sometimes seeks it out for the heck of it. Kevin’s Achilles Heel in this title bout may only be his equipment. RCR is fully capable of winning multiple races and finishing well but they are not capable of matching or exceeding the level of performance that has allowed the top two some breathing room.
Then there is Jeff Gordon. He has the tenacity to win, the equipment to win and certainly the talent so why isn’t he, well, winning? That’s a very good question and it’s difficult to ascertain a definitive answer. He’s been solid the last eight races with only one finish worse than 8th; a 15th at New Hampshire after a pit road mishap cost him the lead, all his track position and potentially even a victory. There’s something missing in the No.24 camp that’s not allowing them to bust through that glass ceiling and perform at the level of his teammate and prodigy, Jimmie Johnson. Jeff’s also been plagued by a problem this year that can’t simply be fixed by an adjustment…it is an annoying and intangible force called bad luck. The next race on the calendar happens to be Talladega; a place where luck is the most crucial element of the whole race.
In 5th sits Kyle Busch. At 28 years old, this naturally gifted racer is seeking his first Sprint Cup but there is a major obstacle standing in his way. The four drivers in front of him have something he seems to lack; the ability to cope with adversity and persevere through it. Case and point…Kansas. That track absolutely hates Kyle and he went into that race with that mindset. He destroyed his primary car in practice and on the first lap of the race; he spun out but can’t blame him for that one. Later in the race, Montoya helped him around and once again, not his fault. Busch was getting very aggravated though and understandably so but he allowed his emotions to get the best of him on a restart twelve laps later. He made a very imprudent decision about of frustration and cut down on Carl Edwards in a three wide situation and just like that, any chance of salvaging his day was over. He’s gotten better over the years but he still has a little way to go before he has the attitude and personality that makes someone championship capable. I don’t mean to pick on Rowdy but it’s incontrovertible that the way he handles all on-track misfortunes is going to make or break his title hopes…who knows, maybe he’ll surprise me in the final five races.
The next two races are intriguing for multiple reasons. One of which is the obvious fact that they are characteristically unpredictable and chaotic event. Secondly, these two wild card events will most likely shake up the standings quite a bit. Matt Kenseth has been amazing on the plate tracks recently while The Paperclip has caused him many problems. The four drivers stalking him have good to spectacular records at Marty and all have won in the past at Talladega. These next two events are going to be incredibly important and will undeniably build the foundation for the 2013 championship fight. Once these 750 miles are complete, I think we will have ourselves a three-man race with three titans of the sport leading the pack in the form of former champions Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and the guy that some will argue isn’t even supposed to be here, Jeff Gordon. Who will come away victorious when it’s all said and done? Let’s just say I think we might be calling a certain someone “6-time” on November 17th.