7 races into the season with Talladega tomorrow, I think that whoever’s going to be challenging Jimmie is starting to become obvious, or least starting to give subtle hints. It also is starting to become obvious who’s fading back, who’s making improvements, and who’s not changing at all. Here’s my breakdown of 1-10 in the standings.
1. Carl Edwards
Carl has been strong so far this season, obviously, with 5 top 10′s, 4 top 5′s, 2 poles, and 1 win in 7 starts, along with the points lead. It seems that if anybody’s going to challenge Jimmie, it’s going to be Carl… or is it? Look at the past. Since when has the regular season’s dominator, the champion of the first 26 races, won a title? Regular season success does not equal into post-season success. I’m worried Carl will use up all his stuff in the regular season, and be all worn out by the time the Chase rolls around. Like Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch have all pointed out in previous years, just because you’re the best throughout the first 26 don’t mean you’re going to walk home with the Cup.
Of course, a championship for Cousin Carl isn’t totally impossible. In fact, it’s probable. Carl seems to hang back some, i.e. Bristol, and seems to have realized that he needs to save his best for last. He seems to be cruising, almost; he isn’t racing all out, isn’t peaking too soon.
Bottom line: We won’t know if he really can challenge for the title until the first couple races in the Chase are over.
2. Kyle Busch
Is “The New Kyle Busch” finally here to stay? Kyle has shown surprising maturity throughout the first two months of this young season. His temper and child-like whining have emerged on more than one instance, yes, but he has conducted himself in an almost shocking display of maturity. Maybe it’s Samantha. Who knows? Whatever is the reason behind Kyle’s sudden growth spurt, it’s helping him. I’ve always maintained that maturity is one of the must-have’s for a championship (Sebastian Vettel aside). Kyle is more patient, doesn’t race %110 every lap, doesn’t let his temper get the best of him, and, overall, has more poise and self-control. We all know he’s got the talent. Now, he might just have the maturity.
Bottom line: beware of the Shrubinator. We might just be saying “bye-bye Jimmie, hello Kyle” by the time the Awards Ceremoney rolls around.
3. Matt Kenseth
In 2003, Matt Kenseth coasted to his first NASCAR Cup championship, clinching the title a week before the finale, and winning it by 90 points over Jimmie Johnson. He had one win that season.
That’s how Matt’s going to win it this year.
He’s always had the consistancy. But lately, he’d been running consistantly outside of the top 10. Many (including myself) were questioning his ability to run up front.
Matt, not a noted qualifyer, has a pole this year. He has 3 consecutive top 5′s. He’s coming off of a dominative TX win.
Bottom line: not a frontrunner for the championship, but a good darkhorse pick. A given for the Chase, we’ll wait and see until September arrives to see if he’s still putting up these results (remember, he put up similar stats in the first few races of 2010, but faded out).
4. Jimmie Johnson
Do I even need to write anything? We all know Jimmie’s style. He doesn’t do much in the regular season, but when the playoffs start, he dominates. His performance in the first 26 means nothing about the last 10.
Bottom line: ask me in September.
5. Kurt Busch
Following an amazing Speedweeks and an early points lead, Kurt looked like an early favorite.
Now, you’d have to be crazy to list him as a championship contender.
His performance the last few weeks have been less than stellar, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. Penske has 19 races to fix any performance issues.
What I am concerned about is his attitude. Have you ever listened to his radio? It’s absolutely terrible.
“How many cars are on the lead lap?” “25.” “That’s where we’ll be by the time this is done.”
He seems unwilling to work. He gives up too early. He constantly throws his pit crew, crew cheif, and carbuilders under the bus. And just try to count the number of swear words! I’ve nothing against cursing, but there are other ways to express your feelings, and 90% of the time he goes on one of his cursing sprees, it’s over next to nothing. He’s a bratt.
Bottom line: turn the attitude around, you’ve got a possible champ. Otherwise, nothing higher than 7th in the season-ending standings.
6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Championship hopes for Junior?
You’re joking, right?
But while a title doesn’t appear in Jr’s future (at least, I don’t think so), I’ve been impressed with his performance. He’s consistant, he’s good, he’s contending, he’s coming back from adversity. He nearly won Martinsville. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at the Awards Ceremoney in Vegas, making a speech other than an acceptance speech for the Most Popular Driver Award.
Breakdown: Championship, no. Good finish, yes.
7. Ryan Newman
I don’t see Ryan contending for a championship. The Rocketman’s been pretty quiet lately; so much that I couldn’t give you a breakdown of his championship hopes. 7th in points with 4 top 10′s, the same amount as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, seems to say that it’s a possibility, but I just don’t see it. After a blazing start to his career, he’s cooled down. I don’t see him ever winning a championship, but we’ll see.
Breakdown: Maybe. Probably not.
8. Juan Pablo Montoya
Get rid of his temper, you’ve got a championship-calibar driver. Juan is very talented, but his temper and incidents with other drivers seem to take him out. However, while I believe lengthening that short fuse of his would help, I don’t believe it’s the sole reason he hasn’t contended for a championship. The main reason? Luck. He has incredibley horrid luck. Engine failures, wrong-place-wrong-time wrecks, impossible-to-avoid penalties…they all factor in, and they all detract. Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years has been the poster child for Juan’s luck (or lack thereof). The Brickyard 400 isn’t just how Indy goes for Juan, it’s how JPM’s entire career has been – filled with bad luck.
Breakdown: Get rid of his bad luck, probably his temper, and Jimmie’s met his match.
9. Kevin Harvick
Two straight wins? I’d be crazy not to consider him. He was M.I.A. at Texas, but i think you’d have to be crazy not to consider him. Slow and steady was his slogan in ’10, and he’s trying his hand at a more flashy style. If he’ll combine those two approaches, consistant with a habit of winning, he’ll not only challenge Jimmie’s 6-Pack campaign, he’ll save Jimmie the trouble of having to come up with a slogan for 7-in-a-row.
Breakdown: if he can bring back his consistant touch, but retain the winning flaire, he’s got this.
10. Tony Stewart
Wow, where do I start? I don’t need to say much about Tony’s performance. The gambles, the failed gambles, have cost the #14. There’s nothing to critique about Tony, save for ill-timed penalties, but there’s plenty of questions marks surrounding Darrian Grubb. His pit strategies have cost Tony 3 or 4 wins. How much faith does Tony have in Darian? How safe is Darian’s job? How much money do you want to put on Tony having a new crew cheif by the end of the season? I’m betting on a crew cheif change over at Stewart-Haas. However, although Darian has cost Tony about half the races in the season, would firing him really be the best move? He has gotten Tony into the position to win, after all. I’m thinking a demotion, maybe. Who knows?
Breakdown: better pit strategy = third championship for Tony.
Although the points will be mixed up after tomorrow, I will try to post a breakdown of 11-20 in points Monday or possibly Tuesday.