By: Jason Schultz
Six down, four to go. In four races we will crown the 2012 Sprint Cup Series Championship. An un-expected wild card race took place Sunday afternoon in Kansas. We saw a Kansas Speedway record fourteen cautions and we saw multiple Chase drivers involved in the cautions. Most notably, Jimmie Johnson wrecked his car and finished ninth. Johnson had a miraculous comeback after essentially losing his championship hopes. Matt Kenseth took home his second Chase win and his third victory of the season. Kenseth has been essentially counted out of the championship and even with his win Sunday, I still believe he is out of championship contention.
Brad Keselowski had a “normal” day at Kansas. Keselowski started deep in the field and moved up to the top ten before halfway. Keselowski then just hung around the top ten most of the afternoon. Keselowski ended up finishing ninth, one position ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski still leads the Chase standings by seven points over Johnson.
If Jimmie Johnson were to win this year’s championship, his miraculous race in Kansas will be looked back on as the race that showed the true championship team arise. We saw Johnson wreck his car and then he ended up finishing ninth. Johnson’s crew did a miraculous job repairing the No.48 car and keeping Johnson on the lead lap. Johnson came down the pit road multiple times under the caution he caused and his team repaired the back end of his car which was destroyed after the wreck. Johnson could have easily lost his championship hopes with that wreck but his team acted quickly to keep Johnson competitive. Johnson still sits second in the Chase standings, seven points behind Keselowski. Johnson is going to need a win in the next few races if he plans on beating Keselowski for the championship.
Denny Hamlin didn’t do anything spectacular in Kansas and he now sits twenty points out of the championship lead. Hamlin finished thirteenth, which was one of the lowest finishes out of the Chasers. Hamlin is looking forward to this weekend at Martinsville because Hamlin has dominated the track in the past. Hamlin has won this race twice and he has been up front for almost every race he has competed in at Martinsville. This week is a huge opportunity for Hamlin to catch up with Keselowski and Johnson. On Sunday we’ll find out if Hamlin ceases the opportunity.
Charlotte winner Clint Bowyer gained some ground on the championship leaders in Kansas. Bowyer finished sixth after running up front for most of the day. Bowyer narrowly missed a few wrecks throughout the day but he brought his car home without major damage. Bowyer sits twenty-five points behind Keselowski but only five behind third place Hamlin. Bowyer will need to show some strength in the next few weeks at tracks he hasn’t raced the greatest on. Bowyer is slowly sneaking into the championship hunt.
Kasey Kahne remains fifth in the standings, only thirty behind the leader. I still don’t believe Kahne is going to do anything spectacular to catch up with the championship leaders. Kahne is going to need to gain thirty points in four races, which is very difficult to do. Kahne is going to need wins in the next few races and he can’t settle for anything less if he wants a championship.
Chase rookie Martin Truex Jr came oh so close to a victory in Kansas. Truex Jr finished second for the second time this season at Kansas. Truex Jr is doing very well in his first Chase but I don’t think he’ll be competing for the championship this year. Truex Jr has four more opportunities to get to victory lane this season.
Tony Stewart bounced back from a spin to salvage a fifth place finish. Stewart likely won’t be competing for another championship this year but he would like to attempt to get back to victory lane. Stewart won three of the final four races in last season’s Chase. Jeff Gordon had a solid tenth place finish at Kansas but after a bad run at Charlotte, Gordon crushed his championship hopes. Gordon was very close to victory at Martinsville in the spring and he will look to redeem himself this weekend.
Kevin Harvick will continue to look forward to the 2013 season. Harvick wasn’t competing for the win at any points Sunday in Kansas and he still sits tenth in the points standings. Greg Biffle lost whatever championship hopes he had after a crash Sunday. Biffle was on a streak of solid finishes leading up to the Kansas and after a twenty-seventh place finish, that streak was stopped.
Kansas provided a shake-up in the Chase and it left some drivers with no more championship hopes. Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson continue to chase Brad Keselowski into Martinsville. A tough little short track will jumble the Chase up even more. We will see the true championship contenders come through Sunday in Martinsville. The Chase for the Sprint Cup is heating up and with four races to go, flares will start to arise in the championship contenders.