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Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Chase is On

The Chase is on for the NASCAR championship.  When the engines fire at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, sixteen drivers will be vying for the championship as NASCAR begins its 10-week version of the playoffs.

It's time to take a look at the the Chase field and make a few predictions.

Tony Stewart victory lane
Tony Stewart's win at Sonoma gave him a Chase spot
Team Effort.  At the beginning of the year, Stewart-Haas Racing seemed to be in disarray, but Tony Stewart snagged a win at Sonoma to get himself a spot in the Chase in his final season.  Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch both put together solid season and easily made the Chase.  Only Danica Patrick failed to qualify from the SHR garage.

Getting three out of four cars into the Chase is solid work, but it is nothing compared to the top-to-bottom greatness Joe Gibbs Racing displayed throughout the regular season.  Although it is not a surprise, it is impressive that JGR got all four teams into the Chase.  Led by the top-seed Kyle Busch, all four Gibbs teams are in the top seven heading into the Chase, and all four teams have a legitimate chance to take home the title.

Young Guns.  Two rookies qualified for the 2016 Chase.  With the Hendrick infrastructure behind him, it is no surprise that Chase Elliott was able to qualify on points.  It is a surprise that Chris Buescher qualified for the Chase by winning at Pocono.  Driving for the single-car team of Front Row Motorsports, Buescher is truly the Cinderella of the field.  Austin Dillon got the iconic #3 Chevy into the Chase on points.  This will be the twenty-six year-old Dillon's first playoff experience.  Kyle Larson will also be making his Chase debut thanks to an emotional win at Michigan late in the year.

With the retirement of Jeff Gordon, the imminent departure of Tony Stewart and the injury to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it is good for NASCAR to have fresh faces poised to carry the torch.  But their time has not come just yet.  Of all of these young guys, Kyle Larson is the most legitimate threat to make some noise in the Chase.  The other three drivers will have their work cut out for them just to get through the first cut at Dover.

Kyle Busch Homestead
All signs point to a repeat championship for Busch
Predictions.  It would certainly be a fun story to see Tony Stewart make a run at the championship in his final year.  Some love Smoke and some hate Smoke.  But most pay attention when he is running near the front.  Most fans would be happy to see Carl Edwards win his first championship.  With JGR power under the hood, Edwards does have a fighting chance.  Martin Truex, Jr. is a dark horse worth keeping an eye on.  Truex has proven this season that he can have success at a variety of tracks.

But, the 2016 Chase is going to be a two-man race between the top two seeds, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.  Both men have proven they can win a championship in the Chase era, and both men have had great seasons thus far.  With the overall dominance of JGR and Toyota throughout the year, Busch has the edge and will take home the Sprint Cup championship for the second year in a row.

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