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Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Chase is On

The Chase is on for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.  Sixteen teams start the Chase with a chance to win the title.  After ten races, a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will be crowned.

Rules and Regulations.  Before we get to predictions, let's go over the nuts and bolts.  Sixteen drivers qualified for NASCAR's version of the playoffs.  Drivers who won a race automatically qualified for the Chase.  This year, eleven different drivers won a race.  The remaining five spots in the field of sixteen were determined by points.

For those sixteen drivers, the points standings were compressed.  The teams that won the most races start tied at the top of the standings.  With each decreasing win, there is a three-point deficit.  The total spread between the leaders and the teams in 16th place is twelve points.  That is equivalent to twelve places on the race track in any given race.

The Chase consists of four rounds.  The first three rounds consist of three races each.  At the end of each round four teams are eliminated.  That leaves four drivers eligible to win the championship at the final race of the year in Homestead, FL.  Whoever has the best finish in that race is the Sprint Cup Champion.

Gordon's Last Ride.  The last meaningful race in Jeff Gordon's illustrious career will be at Dover on October 4.  Jeff Gordon belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of NASCAR, but his final season will have an anti-climactic ending.  Gordon did not win a race all season and starts the Chase in the 13th position. There is no reason to expect a change in performance in the next three races.  Gordon will be eliminated from the Chase when the first cuts are made at the Monster Mile.

Surprise Run.  Clint Bowyer barely qualified for the Chase, but he basically gets to start over now.  With the standings are compressed, I predict that Bowyer will make it all the way to the round of eight.  With demise of Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer has the extra motivation of racing for a new job.  Bowyer also has a strong history at Talladega, the last race before the field is trimmed to eight.

Final Four.  The regular season in NASCAR is long enough and varied enough to truly allow the cream to rise to the top.  Therefore, my prediction for the final four does not contain too many surprises.  It does contain some variety, though.  I am picking four different race teams that consist of two Chevys, a Ford and a Toyota.  My picks are:  Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

(Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
And the Winner Is ... Kyle Busch.  Busch began the season with a brutal accident in the XFinity race at Daytona.  The broken leg that Busch suffered in that wreck caused him to miss the first eleven races of the Sprint Cup season.  When Busch returned to the track in late May, he put together a stunning string of races.  In just fifteen starts, Kyle Busch notched nine top ten finishes, six top five finishes and four wins.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Busch starts the Chase tied for the lead despite starting eleven fewer races than the competition.  Busch, a new dad as of this summer, has demonstrated a new level of patience and maturity during this season.  Despite the scary start, Kyle Busch will finish off this season by winning his first championship.

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