Who Does New Chase Favor?
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 3, 2014 | 12:27 P.M. EST
Could NASCAR's new Chase format help a driver other than Jimmie Johnson win the championship? (Photo: Getty Images)
While the new Chase format has been debated and dissected, the main question remains. Which driver benefits the most?
Some competitors say that’s easy: Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
“No matter what format you put out there, he’s the favorite,’’ former champion Brad Keselowski said.
Not everyone agrees. They praise Johnson’s success in the Chase but that doesn’t mean he’ll score another title.
“I don’t think we’ve ever really seen Jimmie Johnson race at Homestead,’’ Kyle Busch said, noting that Johnson protected a lead there most years. “So how good is Jimmie at Homestead?’’
Johnson showed he could race for a title there in 2010. He entered that race trailing Denny Hamlin in the points and finished second in the race to claim a fifth consecutive crown.
This new format, though, could present pitfalls for some drivers and help others advance to Homestead where four drivers will vie for the title. The one who finishes the best there will be crowned champion.
Here’s a look at who could benefit - and who could be in trouble - in each of the rounds of the Chase.
Races: Chicagoland Speedway, New Hamsphire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway
Who is favored: Matt Kenseth showed his strength last year, opening the Chase with wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire followed by a seventh-place finish at Dover. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch each has an average finish of 10th or better in their last three races at these tracks.
Who is not: This could be a trouble spot for Denny Hamlin even though many view New Hampshire as a strong track for him. He has a career average finish of 20th at Chicagoland and Dover. His recent results haven’t been much better. His average finish in his last three starts at Chicagoland is 25.7, at New Hampshire is 11.3 and at Dover is 20.7.
Trends: Since Chicagoland Speedway became the opening Chase event in 2011, the race’s winner has gone on to capture the series title in two of the three years (Tony Stewart in 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012). Matt Kenseth won there last year and finished second in points.
Races: Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway
Who is favored: Jimmie Johnson is strong at these tracks (average finish of 6.0 in his last three races at Kansas and 9.7 at Charlotte), but keep an eye on Kasey Kahne provided he advances to this round. Kahne has an average finish of 7.0 in his last three Kansas races and 4.0 in his last three starts at Charlotte. If he can continue those runs, he could be in good shape to advance to the third round. Don’t forget Matt Kenseth. He scored a win at Kansas last year (in the spring race).
Who is not: This could be a difficult round for Kyle Busch. He can’t get out of his way at Kansas - he’s failed to finish the last three races there. After Kansas is Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is strong there in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series with 13 victories combined in those series, but he’s never won a Sprint Cup points race there. His career average finish at Charlotte is 15.9. In his last three starts there, he’s averaged a 16th-place finish. So, if he can’t figure out Kansas and his Cup struggles continue at Charlotte, he might need to win Talladega to advance.
Trends: Talladega has had more non-Chase drivers win there than any other Chase track in the past 10 years. Four non-Chase drivers have scored wins at Talladega: Jamie McMurray (2013), Clint Bowyer (2011), Brian Vickers (2006) and Dale Jarrett (2005).
Races: Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway
Who is favored: Again, it’s hard to ignore Jimmie Johnson. In the last three races at Martinsville and Texas, Johnson has two wins each. He would seem to be an easy pick to advance to Homestead. Keep an eye on Kevin Harvick. He’s won two of the last three races at Phoenix. He’s finished in the top 10 in half his career starts at Texas and Phoenix.
Who is not: Texas Motor Speedway has not been the easiest track for Jeff Gordon. Texas and Talladega are the only two Chase tracks where Gordon has not scored a top-10 finish in more than half of his career starts. Talladega is understandable because of its unpredictability, but Texas is another issue. If he doesn’t win at Martinsville, could Texas be the track that keeps Gordon out of the Homestead finale?
Trends: Jimmie Johnson (eight wins), Jeff Gordon (five) and Denny Hamlin (four) have combined to win 17 of the last 22 races at Martinsville Speedway. A win there advances a driver to the Homestead finale, so there’s a good bet one of those three will make it via Martinsville.
Who is favored: Clint Bowyer. He has an average finish of 4.3 in his last three races at this track, including a runner-up finish to Jeff Gordon in 2012. Gordon has a 5.7 average finish in his last three Homestead races. Kevin Harvick has scored six consecutive top-10 finishes at Homestead (average finish of 5.7). Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be someone to watch if he makes it this far. Before 2011, his average finish at Homestead was 24.2. Since 2011, his average finish there is 8.0. Of course, there’s Jimmie Johnson. Although his average finish isn’t as sparkling as others, he’s done what he had to do to win six championships. Can’t discount that.
Who is not: Greg Biffle. Admittedly, it’s odd to place a three-time track winner on this list but Biffle’s last Homestead victory came in 2006. He’s had two top-10 finishes in seven races there since.
Trends: The leader at halfway at Homestead has gone on to win the race only once in the last five years.