With the completion of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway and Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., just ahead, the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season is behind us and the Chase for the Sprint Cup is upon us. So, it’s time to some championship predictions, maybe even time to look back at some pre-season/early-season predictions.
At the onset of the season, I admit, I picked Jeff Gordon as a favorite for the 2015 Sprint Cup. Maybe I was caught up in the Gordon “retirement tour,” so to speak, or maybe I was going on what I witnessed from the No. 24 team in 2014. Either way, I think maybe I was off the mark. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Sure, it could still happen. After all, Gordon is in the Chase, and as long as your still in it, you could definitely win it. But at this point, I’m just not seeing it.
At this point, it’s hard not to pick someone from inside the Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske camp. After all, these two teams have combined to win the last nine races. I guess with that blanket prediction, I’m not going very far out on a limb. As a matter of fact, I still may be clinging onto the trunk of the tree. That kind of gives the term, “tree hugger,” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it. But I digress.
Okay, I’ll venture out onto the limb a little. I’ll narrow that preduction down to JGR. How about getting a little more specific? I’ll narrow that down to either Kyle Busch or Matt Kenseth.
Yes, I realize Busch usually chokes come Chase time, literally. But my proverbial crystal ball isn’t seeing that this time around. Why is that? Busch has seemed to be on some kind of mission since missing the first 11 races because of those injuries suffered in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Maybe getting his Sprint Cup Series season started later, is pushing that “choke” time back. If that’s the case, the proverbial “choke” should come 11 races late. Well, that works out just fine. The Chase is only 10 races, so some kind of “choke” shouldn’t end until season’s end, right?
Then, there’s Kenseth. Maybe like Busch, he’s on some kind of mission, too. Maybe he’s out to prove that the 2013 season of seven wins in his first year with JGR wasn’t a fluke, while simultaneously proving the 2014 winless season was. Kenseth is in a three-way tie with teammate Busch and six-time champ Jimmie Johnson for most wins with four, but three of those wins have been in the last six races. Simple math tells me that over the course of the last six-race stretch, Kenseth has won half the races. That’s a pretty darn good winning precentage.
Yes, I realize that I just mentioned Johnson as one of those drivers in that tie at the top. Yes, I also realize he’s a six-time champion and not far removed from his most recent titles. But if we just narrow the time frame down to the 2015 season, it’s been awhile since Johnson’s been to victory lane. Heck, it’s been awhile since he’s led a race. Do you realize he hasn’t even led a lap since July?
Maybe Johnson’s performance hasn’t really fallen off; maybe it’s a matter of perception. JGR was struggling early in the season, but maybe that team’s dominance lately simply makes Johnson look like he’s off his game. But doesn’t it really matter wheter he’s really off or if it’s JGR-induced perception? After all, this JGR team also is in the running for the Chase — all four of them (Busch, Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin).
So, I guess I’m taking back that pre-season Gordon prediction. A girl has the prerogative to change her mind, doesn’t she. I’m thinking I’ve heard that somewhere. Never fear, though, Gordon’s in the Chase, so he’s still in it. And as I said before, as long as he’s in it, he could still win it. I’m just not that optimistic.
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