Qualifying aside, who will really be eliminated from taking the top spot in the Chase and added to the list of the ones already eliminated? Is this the week Jimmie Johnson begins to leave the rest in the dust on his way to number four? Will anyone come out of Charlotte and show they have anything at all left to show to the #48 (and the fans) that could change the direction the Chase appears to be headed?
These are all questions that have been asked going into this weekend and won’t be answered until the checkered flag falls on the Nascar Banking 500 this Saturday night. As a fan, I look at this weekend as one of the key races for what will likely happen over the next five. There are a lot of “ifs” contained in the rhetoric going around right now and it remains to be seen exactly how it all pans out.
Looking at the lineup for Saturday night’s fifth race in the Chase, I find it interesting, once again, that three of the four actual Hendrick teams and five total Hendrick associated cars are starting in the top ten. Those would include, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. I don’t think that looks to good for the competition but it is possible that we could all be surprised when the race is over. I just don’t intend to start putting a lot of stock in the way the cars have qualified even though it is beginning to be a habitual thing for with the Hendrick cars.
This is the first week that Juan Montoya has shown any weakness since the actual Chase began. Qualifying 18th means he has at least a little challenge ahead of him on race night. Since he has been qualifying and running so well over the last four weeks, it is at least a little surprising to see even a hint of a chink in the performance of the #42 team at this point. I guess it is a reminder that no one is exempt from something going wrong and possibly making the Chase a bit more exciting.
Montoya’s consistency has been the one factor many have pointed to since the Chase began four races ago. I haven’t heard what the thinking is now that he has had a bad qualifying session, especially after his qualifying attempt last week. If you recall, he bounced off the wall in his qualifying run and still started in the top five. As hard as he hit the wall in that qualifying run, it had ‘starting much further back’ written all over it and yet he kept his foot in it and started where he did. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I think qualifying is a bit over-rated at times. Even with his 18th starting position this Saturday night, I won’t rule him out of the hunt for the win.
If qualifying does actually say anything about how the race might go for the rest of the Chasers, Kurt Bush, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin could have long nights and, barring some unforeseen circumstances, will only be racing for who can finish highest in the 7th to 10th spots in the top twelve for the rest of the Chase.
Although Kurt Bush still has a chance to move into contention, this fan’s view thinks the actual Chase is down to five people and this fifth race is going to narrow the field even more. The real problem is not the teams further back in points not being able to run well and make up ground, it is the strength and consistency that has been shown by the three teams leading in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Juan Montoya would have to have a couple of disastrous weeks for anything to change much in the top six positions and the disasters would have to start this weekend in the Nascar Banking 500.
Although there are several commentators that would like to see the disasters start and make the points battle tighten up, this fan doesn’t think that is likely to happen. After the race finishes this weekend, it is this fan’s view, the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be down to four teams and quite possibly only three. No matter how we look at it, time is running out for Jeff Gordon and Kurt Bush.
Realistically, Tony Stewart is going to need some help from the top three teams to move up any further, too. (Of course, this is just this fan’s view at the moment.) One thing is fairly obvious, ‘If’… (gosh, I hate that word), something out of the ordinary and unexpected doesn’t happen in Saturday night’s race, the points race for the Chase isn’t likely to change much over the next several weeks as Nascar heads for its finale in Homestead for 2009.
As much as even I hate to admit it, I’m beginning to lean towards the idea that it is becoming a two horse Chase… BUT, after all… this is Nascar and… (yeah, you know the rest…)
See ya next time…
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
October 17, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman