By: Jason Schultz
Three down, seven to go. In seven races we will crown a Sprint Cup Series champion for the 2012 season. Dover showed us a lot this past weekend and I believe we have a clear group of front runners. Brad Keselowski took home his second victory of the Chase and he is now in prime position for the championship. It has been said you need a few victories in the Chase to win the championship and now Keselowski has his few wins. Keselowski is having a great Chase so far and he is becoming the favorite for the championship
Jimmie Johnson failed to find victory in Dover which is his best track in the Chase. Fuel mileage cost Johnson and his No.48 team the victory. Johnson knew how important it was to not run out of fuel so he needed to back his car way down to be able to finish. Johnson finished the race fourth but that was definitely not what Johnson was expecting.
Fuel cost Denny Hamlin another great finish Sunday in Dover after Hamlin made a pit stop with ten laps to go. In the first race of the Chase, Hamlin ran out of fuel on the last lap and he cost himself a great finish. Hamlin could have had his second victory in as many weeks if he didn’t have to pit late in the race. Hamlin sits in a comfortable third in the standings heading into Talladega.
Clint Bowyer has snuck his way up to fourth in the point’s standings and he has managed to fly under the radar. Bowyer is sitting in a great position heading into the race he has won the last two years. Bowyer has the ability to move up the points quietly but if he keeps moving up in the standings, we’ll be hearing his name a lot more.
The 2011 champion’s Chase is not turning out like his Chase last season. At this time in the Chase last year, Tony Stewart had two wins. This year, he has zero. After winning five races in the Chase last season, Stewart knows how important it is to win but he hasn’t done it himself yet. Stewart had a disappointing 20th place finish in Dover and Stewart is moving in the wrong direction in the points. Stewart fell from fourth to fifth in the points and he needs to start moving back up if he wants a shot at the championship.
Kasey Kahne had one issue cost him a decent finish Sunday in Dover. A missing lug nut during an unscheduled pit stop turned Kahne’s day from bad to worst. After the first two races in the Chase, we thought Kahne would continue to run decent but after Dover, the consistent streak ended. Kahne is not out of the championship hunt yet but a good run at Talladega is what Kahne needs.
Dale Earnhardt Jr is continuing to run consistent and that will not win him a championship. Earnhardt Jr has yet to show he has the best car in a Chase race. Talladega is up next and that is one of Earnhardt Jr’s best tracks. If Junior can show he has the best car, he will be a tough guy to beat coming through the Talladega tri-oval on the last lap.
Running at his home track this past weekend in Dover, Martin Truex Jr had a great sixth place finish. Truex Jr hung around the front most of the day and he made his car better throughout the race. Truex Jr is performing better each and every week and he could become a threat to go to victory lane very soon.
Kevin Harvick is continuing a season where he just runs well each week and he doesn’t do anything spectacular. Harvick is just moving along in the Chase while not doing anything worth talking about. 2012 was just not Harvick’s season. Harvick can still put on a great seven weeks and win the championship but I just don’t see that happening.
Jeff Gordon has been recovering nicely from a wreck at Chicagoland and Gordon is not out of the championship hunt yet. Gordon has had two straight top three finishers after finishing 35th in the Chase opener. Gordon is moving up nicely after beginning the Chase in the 12th position. If Gordon can win a couple of the next few races, he will become a title contender very quickly.
The only two drivers I consider out of the championship hunt three races into the Chase are Roush-Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. They are both currently in the bottom of the Chase standings and over a race out of first place. Both drivers have underperformed In the Chase so far and both are not seriously contending for the championship this year.
Kenseth’s last Chase with Roush-Fenway Racing will be considered a poor performance. Kenseth has not run up front or led a lap. Biffle was Mr. Consistency in the regular season and now he is just not putting up the consistent finishes we saw him have in the regular season. Roush-Fenway Racing should just start concentrating on next year since they won’t be bringing the Sprint Cup home in 2012.
After the third Chase race, we have developed a group of serious championship contenders and a group of guys who should just start concentrating on next season. This coming week at Talladega should provide a major shake-up in the points and we may see a top contender for the championship fall. The race will be wild and worth watching this coming weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway.