Its Anybodys Chase
October 20, 2006 | 5:54 P.M. EST
Kulwicki’s trek to the 1992 championship proved to be fascinating. He sat in fourth place, 278 points behind Bill Elliott with six races remaining. He appeared to have little chance to win the title, with Elliott, Davey Allison and Harry Gant in front of him in the standings.
Kulwicki proceeded to run off finishes of fifth, 12th, second, 12th, fourth and second while Elliott faltered by finishing 30th, 26th, 30th, fourth, 31st and first in those same events. Kulwicki took the title by 10 points over Elliott, which, at that time, was the closest championship finish in history.
In the finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kulwicki led the most laps, 103, while Elliott led 102. Had Elliott led one more lap, the two would have ended up tied. Elliott would have won the tiebreaker by virtue of having more victories.
Back to present day. By the measures of the 1992 championship race, none of the 10 drivers involved in The Chase are out of it. Jeff Gordon is in 10th place heading into the SUBWAY 500 at Martinsville Speedway, 216 points behind leader Jeff Burton.
"You look at what happened to Alan Kulwicki that year and it does give you hope," said Kyle Busch, who is in ninth place in the NEXTEL CUP Series standings, 195 points behind Burton. "Talladega helped bring us, and Kasey Kahne, back into a little bit. But, there’s no more room for error. We can’t stumble from here on out. We’ll just have to try to keep running up front."
After his victory at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last weekend, Kahne put himself in eighth place in the standings, 160 points behind Burton. Kahne had his problems in the first three races of The Chase, but appears to have righted himself and some of his stronger tracks are coming up.
Kahne won earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, the next two venues in The Chase after Martinsville.
"If Jeff Burton keeps running great races, nobody is going to be able to catch him," Kahne said. "But, we’ve had some great races and we’re doing everything we can to catch him. We’ve won six races, and we can win some more. Whether we’re able to make our way up the standings depends on the guys in front of us. Anything’s certainly possible."
Jimmie Johnson knows all about comebacks. Johnson, who is 146 points back in seventh place, put on a furious charge in the final few events in 2004 and finished eight points behind champion Kurt Busch. Johnson was 247 points behind with six races remaining.
Johnson finished second last weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
"If we can run up front, fight for wins and finish up front like we did at Lowe’s, the rest will fall in place," Johnson said. "If we don’t get to the championship, I want to finish as high as I can in the points. I’ve got a record of being in the top five every year so far, and I want to keep that going. But, we’ll fight as hard as we can to win the championship."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in fifth place in the standings, 106 points behind Burton. The Chase hasn’t treated him well so far, but he’s still in a solid position.
"We’re in good shape considering we finally got our first good finish of The Chase (fourth) at Charlotte," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We’re still in it, and we’ve got some good tracks coming up. If Jeff Burton makes a mistake or has a couple of bad runs, it will completely shake up the points."