NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup

Tracking the Chase

Previewing NASCAR's 10 tracks in the Chase for the Championship

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese looks at the 10 tracks that make up NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.</p>

Martinsville Speedway
Hey, didn’t that Dale Earnhardt Jr. guy nearly win here in April? Luckily for him, the track doesn’t change much over the season, so he could definitely continue to score some points on the paperclip half-mile that is a legitimate short track. Junior lost this one then in the closing laps to Kevin Harvick, who won the last short track race at Richmond, as well. Jeff Gordon has been nails here over his career with seven wins, while teammate Jimmie Johnson has six.

Prediction: Kevin Harvick wins a Chase race and keeps his hopes alive. Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin to follow in succession.

Texas Motor Speedway
Texas looks a lot like Charlotte and Atlanta because it is a lot like Charlotte and Atlanta — being shaped like Charlotte and nearly as fast as Atlanta. The Tuesday race at AMS a few weeks back is probably a better indicator of how things will pan out, since the first Texas race this year was too long ago to give a good indicator of how teams have adjusted and massaged their cars over the course of the year.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will be the ones to beat, but Smoke usually shows well here. Horsepower is king and the Ford duo of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards don’t want for anything in the engine room. Penske Racing’s Mopar tandem may be the sleepers.

Prediction: Kurt Busch wins and looks completely out of place wearing a cowboy hat and firing Colt Single Action Army pistols into the air. Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski follow in kind.

Phoenix International Raceway
A repave and reconfiguration means that this is a totally different track than before. When any existing NASCAR track is repaved, it’s usually for the worse, as racing suffers, taking another 10 years for the groove to get worn in. No matter, as long as they remove walls at obtuse angles and put up some bigger billboards or start the race at 7:00 p.m. so the drivers aren’t blinded, that should be the focus.

Kurt Busch has been on the track and part of a tire test, and says it is really slick. I think this is a wild card track that will see a number of cautions and key contenders eliminated from the hunt. Busch has an upper hand with his on-track experience which should help him, but it is brother Kyle who will emerge the better Busch brother.

However, that doesn’t mean either win; it was Carl Edwards who had things in hand at the first race here — and he will exact revenge on the track that denied him. Well, Kyle Busch denied him after he wrecked him, but I don’t think he’ll flip him on his lid. They don’t go fast enough here.

Prediction: Carl Edwards wins, Kyle Busch holds off Jeff Gordon in a reversal from the spring. Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson plow into each other. Johnson calmly recites a different version of what happens and Kurt Busch rips something up and takes a swing at me.

Homestead-Miami Speedway
Ford Championship Weekend and the Ford 400! You know what that means, Right? A Chevrolet wins the title, of course.

Since teaming up with Alan Gustafson this season, Jeff Gordon has been born again and is no longer the softer side of the 24-48 shop at Hendrick Motorsports. Perhaps the best known secret weapon in NASCAR is Gordon’s crew chief, and the team that resurrected another veteran driver who hadn’t visited Victory Lane in a while in 2009 with Mark Martin. The No. 24 team has won at short, flat tracks like Phoenix; fast, high-banked ovals such as Atlanta; and whatever the hell Pocono is. There is going to be another “five-time” in Sprint Cup competition following the final race of the season, and that will be Gordon.

Currently the author of 85 wins, his fifth title will tie him with Jimmie Johnson, while ranking him closer to Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson as the best the sport has ever known.

First, there is a race to be run to make it all official. I don’t think it will be a last-lap nail bitter as it was in the first year of the Chase, but it will change the final standings considering the lack of variance in the point standings, and narrow 10-week window of the championship format.

Prediction: Denny Hamlin wins and thinks someone is sending him through some cruel time warp. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson line up next.
 

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