Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup revisited: modified final four
Last weekend’s Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination race, the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, resulted in a couple of surprise Chase eliminations, and not because of some “big one.” Instead, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and Chase favorite Martin Truex Jr. were taken out of Chase contention by blown engines. With those eliminations, along with the eliminations of Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, I decided it was time to take an overdue look-back at the Chase grid I completed back before the 16-driver Chase got underway. I am, though, going to fast-forward to the final round — the round of four for the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month.
My final four is still, relatively, intact. I had forgotten that I, for whatever reason, didn’t have Truex in my final four. Guess I just ran out of slots. Anyway, somewhat forgetting my “official” picks for the purpose of this blog, I was pleasantly surprised by how my final four looked.
To refresh memories, My final four consisted of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. At this point, considering the surprises at Dega, three out of four isn’t bad. Is it? Dillon, though, almost made my prognostication skills look worse, though, as he came oh-so-close to advancing in place of Hamlin. After all, he and Hamlin were in a points tie after Talladega, with Hamlin advancing and Dillon being by virtue of a tie-breaker. Guess I just barely squeaked that one out, huh?
Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment to modify my final four, based on the current Chase line-up of eight drivers heading into Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500, the seventh race of the Chase. Wow, when I say that, it kind of makes it seem more real that the season is in its final stretch; it’s winding down. Anyway, back on topic.
Since three of my original final four are still in the running, I think it’s only fair that I don’t replace any of those in my final four prediction, even if I may or may not be having second thoughts about one or two of them. Instead, I’ll just simply replace Keselowski in my final four.
Picking one other driver for my final four, somehow, seems almost harder than picking my final four to begin with several weeks ago. Six-time Jimmie Johnson’s still in play. I have to say, I never really considered Johnson before, because, well, he never even got to the round of eight in either of the two previous Chases with the elimination format. He’s jumped that hurdle, now, so could this be the year Johnson joins seven-time champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in the record books?
Or do I simply replace one Team Penske driver with another? In other words, do I replace Keselowski with teammate Joey Logano? After all, Team Penske’s been running pretty good this year. Over the course of the year, the Penske organization has seemed to be Joe Gibbs Racing’s stiffest competition week-in and week-out. But then again, we’re just talking three-race spurts here, not the course of nearly a season.
Of course, there are two other JGR drivers on the table in Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, and to say the Gibbs group has dominated this year may be a slight understatement. Heck, with all four cars still in the Chase, JGR boasts have of the slots in the round of eight.
I don’t think I’m going to go the JGR route. Gibbs may be dominant this season and the team possesses half the current eight spots, but by already having to JGR drivers in my final four in Busch and Hamlin, that’s still half and enough is enough. That brings me to either Johnson or Logano.
I’m thinking I’m going to go with Johnson, and by making that prediction, I feel like I’m just making a wild guess, taking a shot in the dark, so-to-speak. But I’ll still come up with a more impressive, logical explanation for purposes of this blog post, and here it is:
Johnson may have struggled after winning a couple of races very early in the season. Actually, the whole Hendrick Motorsports organization seemed to hit a series of literal speed bumps around mid-season. But lately, Johnson and company seemed to have gotten that ship righted. Face it; six time’s been running pretty well as of late.
So, there it is, folks — my edited final four for Homestead Miami Speedway: Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Harvick and Johnson.
Until we meet again after Homestead. Okay, I’ll be here frequently between now and then, but then, I’ll revisit these picks and see how I did. Keeping my fingers crossed.