11 September 2011

2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Preview & Predictions

The field for the Chase of the Sprint Cup for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been set following the Saturday night race at Richmond International Raceway. The drivers comprising the Chase are (in the order of the points standings) are Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Will Jimmie Johnson win a record sixth conescutive Cup title or will we see someone finally stop his streak? Here is how I think the standings will look once the Chase has concluded at Homestead-Miami Speedway and who will win the title.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior has improved a lot this season but he has been a non-factor since his fast start, which has carried him here. He only has one top ten in the last dozen races. For Junior Nation, 2011 has been a bright spot in his comeback but he won't be a contender in the Chase.

11. Tony Stewart
It has been an inconsistent season for Smoke as he was able to get into the Chase again but he has not often been a contender this year. He does have a little momentum after putting together a pair of top tens to secure his Chase positioning but in a season that could potentially be the first season that Stewart has not won a race in his career and I just have not seen the consistency this year.

10. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski was arguably the hottest driver heading into Richmond with top tens in each of the prior six races, including a stretch with four straight podium finishes. While his hot streak has had many label him a title sleeper, I have not seen the consistency over the entire season to label him a title threat, particularly at the intermediate tracks. He may certainly win a title in the future, this won't be the year.

9. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has been hit or miss in 2011, either contending for a victory or in the middle of the pack. But he does have some momentum from finishing in the top ten the last three races before the Chase but I don't think we'll see the Hamlin of last year who came so close to winning the title.

8. Kevin Harvick
I know Harvick just dominated and won at Richmond but when he has been off this season he has really struggled. He could absolutely win the Chase but again, it's the lack of consistency this year that has me doubtful.

7. Ryan Newman
Newman has had a very consistent 2011 and has been running at the front for pretty much the whole year. However he has only win to show this year for all that consistency and that was at Loudon. Fortunately for him New Hampshire is the second race of the Chase and he is a top contender here but I don't see him piling up victories to finish higher.

6. Matt Kenseth
One of the most consistent drivers in the garage, Kenseth hasn't made many headlines this year with the exception of his victories at Texas and Dover. Both are Chase races and two of his best tracks but his style is simply not the best match for the Chase format.

5. Kurt Busch
Busch is either competing for the win or way back in the pack (sensing a trend). He is also just as capable as running off a string of victories in the Chase and has the experience of being a prior champion. He'll bag some wins and we may see his rivalry with Jimmie Johnson boil over big time.

4. Carl Edwards
Nobody may be better than Edwards at getting great finishes with subpar racecars and he has been so consistent this year. The one downside with him this year has been that he hasn't been able to capture victories that often despite the fact that he has been near the front so often. That I think will hinder his title hopes this year.

3. Jimmie Johnson
I do think it's finally the year that his championship reign ends. Not that he hasn't been strong this year, he has. But you see with each year the field getting closer to him and I think this will be the year that someone else will win. But what may certainly happen is that JJ comes out of nowhere to win. We will wait and see.

2. Jeff Gordon
I was really close to picking Gordon to finally get his long eluded fifth title but I think the Drive for Five will go on for one more year. Gordon has been so good this year especially late but I think there will be somebody sightly better in the Chase this year. His name is...

1. Kyle Busch
I have long been critical of Rowdy because of his immaturity. But now, it appears that Busch has finally gained the neccesary maturity and I think this will be the first title of many for the most talented driver in the garage. His aggression and speed will give him the Chase.

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