By: Jason Schultz
One race down, nine to go. In nine races we’ll know who is the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion. The field is very competitive and after Chicago, I don’t believe anybody is out of the running yet. We saw Jeff Gordon have issues after he crashed just past halfway in the race and we saw Brad Keselowski pick up his very first Chase win. Most drivers in the Chase ran decent at the Chicagoland Speedway this past Sunday but not everyone is still on top in the points.
Not only did Brad Keselowski take home the win in Chicago but he took the points lead as well. Keselowski is on top in the Sprint Cup Series point’s standings for the first time in his career. Keselowski can definitely be a threat for the championship come Homestead but now that he has the points lead, he’ll be tough to knock off the top spot. Coming into Chicago we saw Denny Hamlin sit atop the point’s standings but after Hamlin ran out of fuel on the final lap, he slid back to fourth in the Chase standings. Hamlin was the favorite to win the championship and he still is but now he’ll need to overcome the mistake he made at Chicago.
The dominant car of the day was Jimmie Johnson and he didn’t get to victory lane but he did remain in a solid second in the Chase standings. Defending Sprint-Cup champion Tony Stewart overcame a bad qualifying run in Chicago and he came away with a top ten finish. A solid run moves Stewart up into the third position in the point’s standings. The biggest mover in the Chase standings after Chicago was Kasey Kahne. Kahne rocketed up to the fifth position in the points after starting the Chase in eleventh. Kahne needs to keep having great finishes if he wants to have a shot at holding up the championship trophy in Homestead.
Clint Bowyer stayed put after Chicago. Bowyer didn’t do anything spectacular in Chicago but he didn’t do anything to jeopardize his championship hopes either. Bowyer now rolls in to his arguably best track, New Hampshire. Dale Earnhardt Jr didn’t have a great run Sunday in Chicago, he had a decent run. Earnhardt Jr should realize to win the championship he can’t have the same type of run every week, he needs to finish higher. An eighth place finish isn’t bad, actually it’s quite good but to win the championship you need a string of top five finishes. Junior nation shouldn’t worry because it’s only the first Chase race, but Earnhardt Jr needs to have a spectacular nine weeks if he wants a shot at holding up the championship trophy in Homestead.
Greg Biffle dominated the regular season in points and he led for most of the 26 weeks but after the points reset for the Chase, it left him in the fifth position. After Chicago, Biffle is now in the eighth position in points. Biffle will need to pick it up in the next few weeks so he can regain his throne at the top of the Sprint Cup Point’s Standings. The newest member to the Chase is Martin Truex Jr and after Chicago, Truex Jr is on the up rise. Truex Jr now sits ninth in the points and he will be looking for victory lane in the next few races so he can contend with the Chase veterans for the championship. Kevin Harvick wasn’t the biggest storyline in Chicago. His weekend went like the first 26 weekends he has had this season. Harvick knows how to win and he’ll need to get that winning swagger back if he wants to contend for the championship.
Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth took a step back after Chicago. Kenseth fell back to eleventh in the standings and he know needs to get back to victory lane if he wants the head table in the champions banquet after the season. Jeff Gordon had the worst weekend of all the Chasers. Gordon crashed and about took his Chase hopes out with him. Gordon is now about a whole race out of the lead and one bad week can ruin your championship hopes and Gordon might have just had his.
Many Chase contenders had solid runs at Chicago but some of them lost sight of the top spot in the Chase standings. The quest for the Sprint Cup Championship continues next Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and we should see a great race with lots of hungry Chase drivers going after the win.