By: Jason Schultz
Five down, five to go. In five races we will crown the 2012 Sprint Cup Series Champion. We have reached the halfway point in the Chase and the standings are still close. Clint Bowyer took home the victory Saturday Night in Charlotte and he moved up to fourth in the standings. Bowyer is becoming a major player in the championship hunt. Bowyer has the ability to win some more races in the final five events of the season and possibly be contending for the championship come Homestead-Miami.
Brad Keselowski still leads the championship standings after Charlotte. A eleventh place finish for Keselowski caused Jimmie Johnson to gain seven points on Keselowski but Keselowski still leads the standings over Johnson by seven points. Keselowski is still in good shape heading into the next few races.
One of the dominant cars from Saturday night was Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was up front all night and he came away with a third place finish. Johnson gained seven points on point’s leader Brad Keselowski and now Johnson is easily in striking distance of gaining the points lead next week in Kansas. Johnson could get his first win of the Chase next weekend at Kansas and even in two weeks at Martinsville. Johnson has won at both of those tracks in the past. Johnson is likely the favorite going into the next two races so be on the lookout for the No.48 car to be running up front.
Denny Hamlin continues to sit third in the points standings. Hamlin had a great run and placed second last weekend in Charlotte and Hamlin looks to build off of that. Hamlin won the spring race in Kansas and he’ll be looking for a sweep of the races for the 2012 season this weekend. Hamlin will need to make a move sometime soon to get to the top of the standings and be in better contention for the championship.
One of the drivers I believe is falling out of championship contention is Kasey Kahne. Kahne slid back to fifth in the point’s standings after Charlotte. Kahne didn’t have the greatest run and he wound up finishing eighth. Kahne usually excels at mile and a half tracks but after an okay run at Charlotte, he showed he isn’t the king of mile and a half tracks like many believed. I believe Kahne is out of championship contention and I don’t see him climbing back up in the standings.
Greg Biffle was another one of the drivers that dominated the race Saturday night in Charlotte but Biffle couldn’t come away with the win. Biffle finished fourth and he moved up three spots in the standings to sixth. Biffle is starting to become more and more consistent. Biffle has moved up a handful of positions since he hit his low mark of eleventh in the standings after Dover. If Biffle can get to victory lane in a few of the next couple of races, he will get in serious championship contention.
The Chase rookie, Martin Truex Jr. continues to be consistent in each of the Chase races but he has failed to be top three consistent, which is the championship level of consistency. Truex Jr is continuing to impress throughout his first Chase. Truex Jr is coming closer and closer to winning his first Sprint Cup race since 2007 and with more great runs; he will be able to get to victory lane before the Chase concludes.
Tony Stewart managed to have all four wheels touching the ground throughout the race in Charlotte, which is a good thing. Stewart is in serious need of many wins throughout the next five weeks if he wants his second consecutive championship. Stewart was able to win three of the final five races last season and he could do the same this season if he is very lucky. Stewart will be one to watch for in the next few weeks, he will need a miracle to win the championship however.
After a great three races, Jeff Gordon essentially un-did all those great finishes with an 18th place finish in Charlotte. Gordon was caught speeding on pit road and that cost him a lap and a shot at a good finish. Gordon slipped back to ninth in the standings. His bad performance in Charlotte was his second mistake of the Chase. One too many mistakes. Gordon knew he couldn’t afford another mistake and now that he has made his second mistake, he likely won’t be holding up a championship trophy in Homestead.
Kevin Harvick had another poor performance at Charlotte and he has even said he is already looking forward to the 2013 season with five races left in the Chase. Harvick’s chances at winning the championship are at zero. Harvick can go out for wins now and try to end the season on a good note. Harvick will need a major turnaround to get back to championship contention in 2013.
Talladega winner Matt Kenseth is another driver like Kevin Harvick who has about zero chances at the championship and he should just look forward to the 2013 season. Kenseth wanted to get one final win for his No.17 team before he moved to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013 and when he got that win in Talladega, he has essentially nothing to perform well for. Kenseth will go after wins in the remaining races but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t perform that well in the final five races.
More of a clear line has formed between the guys with a shot at the championship and they guys who a slim chance at the championship. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin are the guys who look like favorites for the championship. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are guys who look like they have no shot at the championship. The race next weekend at Kansas is sure to be entertaining as guys look to get back in the championship hunt and some guys look to pull away from others. Tune in next Sunday afternoon to watch round six of the championship hunt unfold.