With only two races to go before the Sprint Cup Championship is decided, performance this weekend is crucial if anyone is going to take away the Sprint Cup from the #48 team. Not everyone has a chance to do that, but those that do absolutely must out-perform Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
All eyes are on whether or not Jimmie Johnson can make it through this weekend without the major difficulties of last week in Texas and finish fourth or better to come even closer to cinching the Championship for the fourth time in a row. (Uh, did I mention it was historic?)
If anyone puts stock in the qualifying times over the practices, those times indicate this could be a week of someone other than a Chase contender actually winning the race. You already know I don’t put much stock in qualifying times, but if this week’s order says anything about the race, it says expect the unexpected. Admittedly, a lot can happen in the race itself, but I do think this is the race that is either going to make or break the Chase. It is all going to depend on where Jimmie Johnson finishes compared to those closest to him in points. As it stands at the time of this writing, he needs to finish fourth or better over the next two races and he will collect his fourth Nascar Championship, (and do I really need to add the “in a row” part? Nah, probably not.)
I know there are those that think Martin Truex and Denny Hamlin have the best chance of winning this weekend and some may even include Kurt Bush. I’m not so sure any one of the three will be able to pull it off though. (In all honesty, it’s just been that kind of year for these guys…)
Now this is definitely just this fan’s view and I could be way out to lunch, but I’m inclined to look at others to pull it off. I won’t go into how I arrived at these, but I will say if they don’t end the race at, or near, the top of the scoring pylon, I will be very surprised. I’m looking at the possibilities of Juan Montoya, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and, yes, Jimmie Johnson.
You see, there is a big difference between running a fast lap or two and running consistently fast laps. It is just this fan’s view, but I do think that any of the ones I just mentioned have a good chance at taking the victory at Phoenix this weekend simply because they consistently turned good laps in the final practice. Sure, I understand it’s a tough track and anything can happen but, I think their chances at moving up in the points and their determination to do so are the determining factors when all is said and done.
I can’t really say I completely rule out some of the others that are quite capable winning but haven’t had stellar years. Probably the most recognizable name is Dale Jr. I can think of several others, but none with more to prove. His expectations for this year and the actual results are worlds apart. It isn’t that he hasn’t run well at times this year. In fact, he has been running well up in the pack when something unexpected has reached out and bitten him. I have to wonder what it will be like for the others in Sprint Cup when the #88 team gets beyond all the troubles. Do I think he is going to dominate when that happens? No, probably not, but I will say he is in a great organization and Hendrick Motorsports could be the dominate force again next year and it could be four Hendrick teams contending for the Cup next year.
All in all, I expect this race to be about as interesting as any in the Chase so far. There is way too much on the line for it not to be. After all, this is just a flat short track with lots of things, good and bad, that can happen at anytime. Depending on what actually happens in the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, will determine how interesting next week will be in Homestead. If the point’s race tightens up more with the race tomorrow, I look for Homestead to be a nail-biter right down to the wire. If not, it may just be one we have to sit through and wait out to the end to see who finishes where in spots two through eleven. I’m already pretty sure who is going to finish twelfth… although…
See ya next time… Rusty
© November 14, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman