It may be a little premature to say that the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup is winding down, but it is past the halfway point with six of 10 races completed. To the surprise of probably nobody, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are out ahead of the rest of the pack in the championship battle. Before the Chase got underway, I made the prediction that this year’s Sprint Cup would go to Kenseth. I’m still holding to that prediction. Yes, Johnson took the lead this past weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, but he only has a scant four-point lead over Kenseth, so this thing’s far from over.
Okay, so maybe it’s over for most Chasers, whether they want to accept it or not. With four races to go, there are a total of five drivers at the top that are within a race of the lead; that’s including the leader, himself. The first driver more than a race’s worth of points is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is 52 points back in sixth.
Behind Johnson and Kenseth sit Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who are tied for third, 26 points behind Johnson. Jeff Gordon is 34 points back in fifth.
I’m calling this thing a two-man race between Johnson and Kenseth, at this point, especially with the wild card that is Talladega out of the way. Yes, Martinsville Speedway, the site of Sunday’s race, is considered a wild card by some, but compared to Talladega — not so much.
Sure things happen, and any of the other aforementioned drivers could take advantage by some kind of catastrophic incident for Johnson and/or Kenseth and move back into contention, but I’m not holding my breath.
So, let’s just examine the chances of Kenseth and Johnson, here, and the tracks remaining. The four tracks left are the aforementioned Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If past statistics are any indication, Johnson definitely has the upper hand at Martinsville. The guy’s won eight times there. Kenseth, though, is still searching for his first Martinsville trophy. But there’s four races left, not just one. Given 2013 statistics, one thing that may be in Kenseth’s favor — the presence of two mile-and-a-half tracks in the final four. Kenseth has been better than good, overall, on mile-and-a-halves this year, hence his new nickname, “Mile-and-a-Half Matt.” Of course, there’s the one-mile at Phoenix in between the mile-and-a-half Texas and Homestead-Miami. Johnson’s pretty good there with four trips to victory lane. Meanwhile, PIR is another one of those tracks at which Kenseth is winless.
Considering season and historical stats for both drivers and the tracks that remain, I think this championship battle is going to go down to the wire. But I picked Kenseth in the beginning and I’m going to stick to it. At the same time, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the other way.
Below, check out a mini-gallery of the top-five championship contenders (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR). Then let us know what you think on Twitter (@AutoRacingDaily) or on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner