The champagne has dried from the celebration Saturday night in Richmond over the 16 drivers who got into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now comes the reality check that four of those drivers will be booted from the playoff bracket once the checkered flag falls at Dover in three weeks.
What’s exciting about this year’s Chase is the idea that even one bad run can be erased with a victory in the three race window. Not finish Chicagoland and win New Hampshire, then you’re cruising into the Contender (second) round. Finish near the top at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, then not finish Dover, and you could be on the outside looking in.
The opening round will be the easiest to make predictions on who will not move on, because like all sports it’s easy to identify the weak links. As you progress, the competition gets stronger and you’d be better off throwing a dart at a wall than make an educated guess.
Here’s my prediction on who will not make it out of the Challenger (first) round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup (no particular order, done alphabetical):
It has been a great year for Allmendinger and his JTG-Daugherty Racing team. They got the monkey off their back with a victory at Watkins Glen, which punched their ticket into the Chase. The problem is this single car team is despite all the support they get from Richard Childress Racing, it’s still David vs. Goliath for them. Allmendinger admitted after Richmond that he drove a less than good car that race because they were saving their best for these three races. I believe that their best is still light years behind the bests of other organizations. This is not a knock, but reality. That said, they have a lot to build on and hang their hat on for this season.
This paragraph is going to sound a lot like Allmendinger’s above, Almirola picked up the random win at the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July. He’s been good this season, but without the win, we wouldn’t be talking about him now. He’s in the Chase and anything can happen, but most likely he will run decent with others out pacing him each of the three weeks. He and his Richard Petty Motorsports team have much to build on with this and the rumored alliance with Team Penske in the future, but for now it’ll be a quick three races and back to reality for the team.
Biffle tried everything in his power to not be in the Chase on Saturday night. He finished 19th and was just horrible out there. In a race where they had it nearly locked up, but anything could have happened, Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing team brought a knife to a gun fight. He had positive vibes after the Richmond race based on testing at Chicagoland earlier in the year. I’m calling bull on that and he’s been mid-pack most of the season. It won’t take long until he’s bounced out of the Chase and we’re left wondering what is wrong with Roush Fenway Racing once again, despite having two out of three cars in the Chase this season.
After racking up seven wins last season, how could Matt Kenseth have gone 26 races without a win? Well it happened, and Kenseth has been a slow sinking ship since the end of July. New Hampshire and Indianapolis saw back to back fourth place finishes. Then it was 38th at Pocono. He followed that with a ninth at Watkins Glen, then a 38th at Michigan. Bristol he was third, Atlanta he was second, and this past weekend he was 41st. That’s exactly how I opened this was someone doing well twice in a row, and then bombing out the third race. Without winning one of these races, I’m leaning towards it being a short post-season for Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing bunch this year.