After working midway through the 2011 NASCAR Chase Championship, The Adrenalist picks the drivers who are likely to pick up the big check at the end of the year, based on where the standings are today, and where the odds suggest that the final tallies will be.
Carl Edwards (3/1 odds): Currently the Missouri native leads the standings, but when the rubber finally cools, it is unlikely that Carl will win the 2011 Chase Championship. Although he’s as fast as anyone in the paddock once he puts his mind to it, Edwards’ focus continues to be in doubt, since he still runs multiple series year-over-year. Although winning events in the Nationwide Series is nice, along with helping Roush-Fenway keep its extended cadre of commercial supporters happy, The Chase has become an ‘all or nothing’ proposition when it comes to NASCAR’s premier championship. As a result, getting a win here and there versus getting the job done by winning the championship are two entirely different things. Additionally, Roush-Fenway is not making the power that it used to make, and the team’s engineering folks have had a difficult time getting the car to do what Edward’s wants it to do, so when its all said and done, count on Carl finishing in the top-5, but that’s about all.
Kevin Harvick (2/1 odds): Kevin Harvick is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Is he capable of winning the championship?Yes. Will he? Maybe. The issue with Harvick is his well-known lack of consistency, when compared to his obvious talent as a wheel-man. However, during the 2011 season he and his RCR brethren have shown surprising top-5/top-10 stability, even though the Childress camp has faced a number of team organization challenges throughout. It should be remembered that Harvick was seeded first at the beginning of The Chase, and he hasn’t fallen much below that position during the ensuing six races. So in the end of the day, Harvick is still strong and well-positioned to take the big check in the end, particularly if he can take a win between now and the end of the year.
Matt Kenseth (4/1 odds): Even though Kenseth currently lies third at the mid-point of The Chase, our guess is that he’ll likely fade in ensuing events, since he faces the same technical challenges that Edwards does, based on a lack of engineering success with the next-gen Sprint Cup chassis. During the Charlotte round, Jimmy Fennig took a flyer on the car’s setup at the beginning of the race, and this roll of the dice paid off as the event wound down, since the car’s initial understeer configuration worked to its advantage as the night got cooler. As a result, Kenseth’s methodical driving approach allowed him to move up during each 30 lap segment, while Fennig continued to tinker with the setup until he finally got it right. As a result, Kenseth ended up blowing Kyle Busch in the weeds inside the last 10 laps and ended up taking the win. Regardless, on balance, our sense is that the Charlotte victory will end up being The Chase highlight for the ‘other’ Roush team.
Kyle Busch (5/1 odds): As the youngest of the ‘Battling Busch Brothers,’ Kyle offers blazing speed here and there, but not much more when it comes to championship consistency and maturity. As a pure illustration of an all ‘muscle no brains’ axiom, this kid is plenty quick, just as long as the Gibbs guys continue to put bullet-proof cars under him, while periodically accepting Busch’s tendency to overdrive his car until its junk. Granted, Kyle has been able to put together some serious streaks this year, but The Chase is based on an endurance, not a sprint model. Therefore, just as we saw with the Charlotte result last evening, it is likely Kyle will fade in The Chase’s late going, just as he does every year.
Tony Stewart (1/1 odds): Smoke is a next-gen archetype in the Dale Earnhardt Senior mold; canny, experienced and hard-headed, while at the same time, being mature enough to accept that sometimes going slow enough to win is best. Stewart, has been around every corner, and up every street in professional motorsports, and as The Chase has become more about commercial sustainability and business growth, versus a pure sporting effort, he has leveraged his experience to become a force every time he gets in or out of the car. In looking at this year’s Chase, we think that his performances merit a first-place standing, even though he currently lies 5th. Had he not gotten caught behind a yellow in the pits at Charlotte last weekend, he ‘would,’ have been higher in the standings today, but that’s racing after all. Regardless, he finished 8th after re-starting 21st, showing just how strong the car was, and how well he and the team managed it. In the end of the day, he’s only one win away from P1, and with Talladega coming up, it won’t be unreasonable to assume that he’ll be at the top of the standings when the circus leaves Alabama.
There are the current top-5 Chase runners along with our odds picks. Regardless, stay tuned as there a couple of dark horses in the mix that can still shake up The Chase yet, including Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon. As a result, it should be an interesting end to the NASCAR season.