Hard to believe, but the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup has already reached it’s halfway point. Through the first five races, we have seen great pit strategy dictate the outcome of the race, to absolute melee turning the finishing order upside-down.
In one month, the 2012 season will be a in the past and the 2013 Daytona 500 will be fast approaching. But, while we have five more races until we can crown a champion, let’s see how the drivers chasing after the championship stack up.
1: Brad Keselowski- It looks as though Keselowski is well on his way to his first Sprint Cup title. In the first five Chase races, he’s seemingly done no wrong and when his car hasn’t been the best, he still manages to salvage a respectable run. At this point, he’s his own worst enemy as the championship race picks up.
2: Jimmie Johnson- The five-time champion is going to need a win to beat Keselowski for the championship. So far, he’s had a chance at winning three of the five races, two of them were won by Keselowski. This is the part of the Chase were Johnson seems to have the upper hand, so it’s not even close to being over.
3: Denny Hamlin- Much like the top-two, Hamlin has been nothing short of great in this Chase. However, in three of the fives races, he’s given up points to Keselowski and Johnson. Heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin won there back in April but with the recent reconfiguration of the track, who knows if anything will transfer over.
4: Clint Bowyer- I’ll be the first to admit that I missed the notice that Bowyer was going to be this good in the Chase. He’s within reach of the point lead, has speed and can get great fuel mileage as we saw on Saturday night. Now, I don’t see him being in the mix come Homestead, but that’s simply because I see the front-three running away from the field by that point.
5: Kasey Kahne- All Kahne needs is a little bit of luck and he’d be golden. In the first five races, he’s had speed and solid finishes. But where Kahne has lacked the most is in the department he can’t control; luck. Besides that, a few pit road miscues have cost the team spots, but for the most part it’s been a bad relationship with luck.
6: Jeff Gordon- His championship chances are over. Saturday night’s 18th place finish at Charlotte officially took him out of the hunt in my eyes. But, there’s no denying that Gordon has been one of the best drivers in this Chase. While his chances at the ultimate prize are over, a win or two from him wouldn’t be shocking.
7: Greg Biffle- It’s a case of too-little-too-late for Biffle in 2012. His performances in the past two races have been impressive and surely will run well again Sunday at Kansas, but sitting sixth in points, 43 points out of the lead, is almost insurmountable the way Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin have been running in the Chase.
8: Tony Stewart- Maybe it’s just me, but if it wasn’t for the 25-car crash at Talladega, I wouldn’t have noticed that Stewart was even in the Chase. Possibly somewhat due to his amazing run of a year ago, but it’s appeared as though Stewart’s team has been flat in the first five races. Not bad, just flat.
9: Kevin Harvick- The way the majority of 2012 has been for Harvick, he should be thrilled with the progress the team has made in the Chase. No, he hasn’t won. But, he has been able to compete and have a car that has the potential to be in contention for a win. Will he get one? I don’t think so. But don’t rule it out.
10: Martin Truex Jr.- Many would have expected more out of Truex Jr. and crew. While he has been the banner driver for Michael Waltrip Racing throughout the year, he hasn’t been able to find victory lane. His season has been impressive, but without a win it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Five races left, I think he can visit victory lane in that that stretch.
11: Dale Earnhardt Jr.- Everyone knows the story by now. Earnhardt Jr. out for at least two races after sustaining multiple concussions within the past six weeks. For Earnhardt Jr., racing is the least important thing at the moment.
12: Matt Kenseth- Putting Kenseth below a driver who isn’t even racing for two weeks just shows how bad this Chase has been for him. Yes, he did pick up a win at Talladega. But that was almost to be expected based on how well he’s ran at restrictor plate tracks in 2012. They don’t want to admit it, but these last five races for Kenseth and the No.17 are a wash.