The 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup gets underway Sunday with the running of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., so I guess it’s time to fill out that Chase grid and make predictions, all the way down to the identity of the driver who’ll be crowned this year’s Sprint Cup Series champion.
For my picks from round to round of the Chase, check out the completed grid at the bottom of this blog post. There’s also a blank grid down there for you to complete, yourself. It’s like NASCAR’s answer to NCAA bracket challenges.
Anyway, before I fast-forwarding all the way to end and picking a champion, I picked my final four — Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
I went with Busch and Keselowski, because, after all, they’re the two winningest drivers from the regular season with four trips to victory lane apiece. I figured, if anyone can win their ways through each round it would be those two guys, right?
Then I went with the Sprint Cup Series’ “Mister Consistency,” Harvick. Sure the guy’s had problems on pit road in recent weeks, but Stewart-Haas Racing has shaken up the pit-crew roster. Meanwhile, Harvick has posted top-five after top-five finish this season. As a matter-of-fact, he leads the series in top-five finishes. If anyone can points their way through this Chase, I’m thinking it’s Harvick. Besides, I’m sure he’d, at the very least, make it to the round of eight, the round that includes Phoenix International Speedway. And at this point, don’t we almost expect a Harvick win there? After making the round of eight, and I’m sure he will, a win at PIR would automatically advance him to the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Then there’s Hamlin. Considering Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance this season, how could I not put at least two JGR drivers in the final four? But that’s where the difficulty came in. Given Busch’s four wins, he was an easy choice, but with other slots already taken by Keselowski and Harvick, that left me with only slot remaining and three other JGR drivers — four if you count corporate teammate Martin Truex Jr.
I went with Hamlin for a couple of reason — momentum, as he’s heading into the Chase on the coattails of his third win of the season, and that idea that a driver has to learn how to lose one before he can figure out how to win one. Face it. Hamlin’s been oh-so-close to a Sprint Cup so many times, I guess it could be said that he’s figured out several ways to lose one.
Once I completed the difficult task of narrowing my selections to four, I had to reduce further to one. And I thought picking four was hard. I think it’s pretty much a toss-up between my final four drivers, but since I had to pick one, I went with Hamlin. Want to know why? See my explanation for putting him in the top-four.
Well, those are my picks. Have fun making yours.
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