Thursday, September 8, 2011

Predictions: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin lead others to compete for the final 3 spots to get into the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Richmond.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams finally pack up and leave Atlanta after a two day postponed race due to rain from Tropical Storm Lee, they now are heading back north through Charlotte on up to the final Race to the Chase at Richmond International Raceway this Saturday night.

NASCAR now finds themselves with the added excitement that they were hoping for when they announced this new 1 point per position points system and two wild cards back before the season begun. So with one race to go to see who’s in and who’s out of the chase, here is the break down and what I believe is going to happen come Saturday night.

After Atlanta, NASCAR official locked in the top 8 drivers as well as one wild card entry.

1. Jimmie Johnson (1 win)
2. Kyle Busch (3 wins)
3. Carl Edwards (1 wins)
4. Matt Kenseth (2 wins)
5. Jeff Gordon (2 wins)
6. Kevin Harvick (3 wins)
7. Kurt Busch (1 win)
8. Ryan Newman (1 win)

As well as the first wild card driver Brad Keselowski as a result of his 3 wins and 11th in points. Keep in mind, Brad is -21 points behind 10th place Tony Stewart and -23 behind 9th place Dale Jr. Those numbers might play a role.

So with 9 drivers locked into the chase that just leaves 3 slots open and several different scenarios that could play out.

Currently here are the drivers that are in the chase as of now.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  +25 over 11th (He needs to finish 20th or better, meaning getting 20th or better points to lock into the chase regardless of what any other driver does.)

10. Tony Stewart +23 over 11th (He needs to finish 18th or better, meaning getting 18th or better points to lock into the chase regardless of what any other driver does.)

Wild Card #2. Denny Hamlin in 12th

Denny Hamlin who currently holds down the second wild card slot realistically has only 5 drivers to beat at Richmond to make the chase despite the fact that 11 drivers mathematically have a chance at making the chase, of course most of them hinder on Brad Keselowski moving into the top 10 in points. It’s all due to wins and neither Tony Stewart, or Dale Earnhardt Jr. have a win this season.

The 5 drivers would be based on the fact that they could win the Richmond race:

- 13th in points, A.J. Allmendinger. The 43 can make the chase if he wins the race and scores 12 points more than Denny Hamlin. This is a wild card and since A.J. has been knocking on the door of his first Cup Series win, Richmond is a good place for him to get it.

- 14th in points, Clint Bowyer. The #33 can still make the chase if he wins the race and scores 13 more points than Denny Hamlin. Keep in mind that Clint Bowyer has won at Richmond before and runs well there.

As well as:

- Paul Menard (Since Menard has 1 win this season already, he would have to win at Richmond and be inside the top 20 to make the chase.)

- Marcos Ambrose (Since Ambrose has 1 win this season already, he would have to win at Richmond and be inside the top 20 to make the chase.)

- David Regan (Since Regan has 1 win this season already, he would have to win at Richmond and be inside the top 20 to make the chase.)

However while I believe that it will be a duel to the end at Richmond with several drivers making that last minute charge for the chase, I prediction that Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin will all make the chase for the Sprint Cup. While Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will fight it out for the victory and keep in mind that for the other drivers outside the chase, no victory, no chase.

Why? Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most part has been running well all season long despite some bad luck and since Richmond has been a good track for him in the past, he should finish inside the top 15. The same goes for Tony Stewart, Smoke has a 3rd place finish at Atlanta last Tuesday and him finishing inside the top 15 as well should be good.

That just leaves Denny Hamlin and yes he is a wild card. However since he does have one win earlier this season at Michigan and since Richmond is not only his home track, but a good track for him, plus he finished 2nd here in May, I see Hamlin contending for the victory all night long and finishing inside the top 5 without issue.

Plus, as much as Earnhardt Jr., Stewart and Hamlin have had bad luck this season, there biggest competition namely the 5 other drivers have had bad luck too and have yet to capitalize on anything as of now especially Clint Bowyer who has three chances so far. So no chance, of course even getting a top 20 finish at Richmond is difficult to do.

Now let’s see some good old fashion Saturday night short track racing under the lights.