10 September 2014

2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup Predictions: Challenger Round

(USATSI)
The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and more importantly, it is the debut of the new Chase format. For those who may need a refresher, 16 drivers are now in the mix for the title and will compete in the Challenger Round, the first three races of the Chase. 12 drivers will advance to the Contender Round with all winners advancing and the remaining spots decided by points. Eight drivers will move on from the Contender Round to the Eliminator Round after the next three races with all winners advancing. The Eliminator Round will be the following three races and the field will be whittled from eight drivers to four, who will run for the Cup at Homestead-Miami on November 16. Got that?

So unlike years past, I will make my Chase predictions for each round and with that, here are my predictions for the Contender Round and the races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover.
This is how I am projected the standings will look after Dover entering the Contender Round with any winners being at the top.

1. Brad Keselowski 
Projected winner at Chicago

2. Joey Logano
Projected winner at New Hampshire

3. Jimmie Johnson
Projected winner at Dover

4. Matt Kenseth

5. Jeff Gordon

6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

7. Jimmie Johnson

8. Denny Hamlin

9. Carl Edwards

10. Ryan Newman

11. Kasey Kahne

12. Kyle Busch
Rowdy has really struggled of late as he has gone six races without a single top ten, not to mention that spat between him and crew chief Dave Rogers (the two have gotten past it, they say) so I don't have the confidence that this will be the year that Busch finally gets a title. That said, I can't see this team performing that poorly in these first three races to where he would be eliminated. I think the 18 will get its act together just enough to survive.

As you can tell, I am projected the ensuing drivers to be eliminated.

13. Greg Biffle
Biffle has been solid down the stretch of the "regular season" but he has struggled to be running at the front in contention for wins. I think considering that, unless he wins (he has wins in the past at Loudon and Dover), he will struggle avoid the elimination.

14. Kurt Busch
Busch did win at Martinsville early in the year but beyond that, he has had a very inconsistent season in his debut year at Stewart-Haas Racing. I just don't see him either winning or being consistent enough to survive.

15. Aric Almirola
Almirola got to the Chase after winning the rain-shortened race at Daytona and he became the initial underdog Chase participant. However, it looks like a tough time for him to get past the Challenger Round as he just hasn't been a consistent front-runner this season.

16. A.J. Allmendinger
The man they refer to as the Dinger got to the Chase by winning a classic at Watkins Glen but he is it numerous disadvantages. First off, he has not been much of a contender to win anywhere. Second, he is the only driver in the Chase running for a single-car team. Getting to the Chase for him to have such an underdog shot was a big accomplishment for the 47, but I would be very surprised if he were to not be eliminated after Dover.

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