We have been talking about it for months, and it’s finally here: the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup will kick off Sunday in Chicago. Plenty of crazy storylines have made this season an unforgettable one, and this Chase will likely continue that trend. Each of the 12 drivers competing for the championship believes that 2013 will be the year their team will take home the Sprint Cup, but starting Sunday, the contenders will be separated from the pretenders as we move closer to crowning the 2013 champion.
Despite this being a week where the Chase should be the only topic talked about, Saturday night’s events in Richmond need to be discussed. This week, thee Trackside Duo dishes out their opinions from Richmond, as well as their playoff previews, as they get set settled in to witness the Chase unfold.
1) Clearly, it has been a huge week for NASCAR. Saturday night’s race at Richmond led to a storyline no one saw coming. Michael Waltrip Racing attempted to manipulate the end of the race to put Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase. The story has many parts to it, but what are your overall thoughts on the subject?
Alanis: I, personally, don’t agree with the MWR penalties. Teams manipulate points all the time, but in more subtle ways. NASCAR can’t penalize letting a teammate lead a lap, or staying out of the pits during green-flag pit stops in order to gain an extra point here and there. Like it or not, that’s manipulation too; it’s strategy. All of this, including Bowyer’s spin (though it went unpunished specifically, the entire MWR team still suffered consequences) and Vickers’ stop, falls under the same category – but NASCAR won’t punish the less blatant things. The MWR penalties have opened the door to a brand-new gray area – we all know and love those gray areas – and have enabled fans to express concern with all forms of points manipulation in the future. Though it will never be admitted, I believe that NASCAR’s harsh penalties on MWR were, in part, a reaction to the mass public outrage from fans, drivers, media members, and so on. The incident gained plenty of bad publicity, and NASCAR would have been looked down upon by many if nothing had been done to reprimand the team. Had NASCAR not acted upon MWR, it would have raised even more questions and outrage, so while I feel that the penalties themselves were uncalled for, I understand the circumstance NASCAR was in while making the decision to penalize the team.
Jason: Justice has been served. NASCAR’s penalties were severe enough to show that they are not messing around when it comes to teams trying to manipulate the end of the race. Knocking Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase was the right move, since if it was his doing or not, his team tried to cheat him into the playoffs. He signed the contract with MWR and he will always have to live with their decisions. Many fans didn’t agree with the lack of penalty Clint Bowyer received, but I believe his penalty will definitely punish him. NASCAR couldn’t have punished Bowyer inside of the Chase and Truex Jr. outside of it since their inconsistency would be on display again. Despite Bowyer’s penalty having little effect on his championship hopes, the mental side of this story will keep Bowyer from winning the championship. This is one the biggest marks on his career and the questions regarding the incident won’t die down anytime in the near future. He will constantly be distracted throughout the Chase and there is little chance he will be able to stay in contention. NASCAR couldn’t let this slide by and they penalized the situation in the best way possible. This is unprecedented so there are no expectations for what the penalty should be, so NASCAR did what they could and I see it being effective in the future.
2) One question that has gone unanswered throughout this controversy is whether or not Clint Bowyer’s spin with seven laps to go was intentional or not. Bowyer has denied it being on purpose, but he has has also danced around the question in interviews. Do you think he spun the No. 15 car on purpose Saturday night?
Alanis: All of the evidence leads to one reasonable conclusion: yes. I, however, don’t think the spin was in Bowyer’s hands – metaphorically, that is. He was given team orders, and had he not obeyed them and Martin Truex Jr. missed the cut for the Chase because of it, Bowyer could have been in deep trouble at MWR. So while it’s nearly indisputable that the spin was intentional, I don’t know if Bowyer is completely to blame for it.
Jason: Yes he did. There is a pile of evidence pointing that way. NASCAR can’t prove through the odd radio transmission that he was told to spin, but its oddness also closes the case. Drivers, past and present, have said that the car spun out intentionally, making the case even stronger. Bowyer has been apologizing for something all week and he has never said what for. We all know what for, the No. 15 car taking a spin to change the Chase picture.
3) In a week where the Chase would normally take center stage, it hasn’t. Excitement is still in store for the final ten races, however. Now that the Chase field is set, a fight for the title is about to begin. What do you expect out of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup?
Alanis: Uncertainty is a given. While I believed that Clint Bowyer would be a major factor prior to Richmond, I’m not so sure anymore. The incredible amount of off-track drama could easily result in on-track faltering for the No. 15 team, and that could take him out of title contention easily. The title fight will likely boil down to Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, and the points will probably go down to the wire heading into Homestead-Miami. I expect a tight points battle for the entire season-ending race, given neither team has mechanical or on-track drama at Homestead.
Jason: Wildness, craziness, and more wildness. This season has been incredibly different. So many unexpected storylines have shaped this season and more coming in the Chase wouldn’t surprise me. Watch for many different drivers to seem to be in control after certain races, but only for those guys to lose that as the Chase progresses. Passion this season been ever so present and look for that passion to create a never before seen type of Chase.
4) A champion will be crowned in ten weeks. 12 drivers, 10 races, one champion. Once the Chase concludes, who will win the Sprint Cup Series championship?
Alanis: Put me down for the No. 20 team. Matt Kenseth will take it home this year.
Jason: Five-time will turn into six-time. Jimmie Johnson has been so strong this season and the No. 48’s mastering of the Gen 6 car has given them such an edge that I don’t expect anyone else to beat this team. Add that to their Chase experience and I see this team bouncing back from a not-so-great month and catching fire over the next 10 weeks.
5) This year’s Chase field is a hard one to predict. Many drivers will have a great shot at the championship, but only one will take it home. How the final standings will look after Homestead-Miami is up in the air right now, but how do you see everything shaking out?
1.) Matt Kenseth
2.) Jimmie Johnson
3.) Carl Edwards
4.) Kevin Harvick
5.) Kyle Busch
6.) Kasey Kahne
7.) Clint Bowyer
8.) Joey Logano
9.) Jeff Gordon
10.) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11.) Kurt Busch
12.) Greg Biffle
13.) Ryan Newman
1.) Jimmie Johnson
2.) Kyle Busch
3.) Kasey Kahne
4.) Matt Kenseth
5.) Carl Edwards
6.) Joey Logano
7.) Clint Bowyer
8.) Kevin Harvick
9.) Ryan Newman
10.) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11.) Kurt Busch
12.) Jeff Gordon
13.) Greg Biffle
Follow Alanis on twitter @alanis102495 and follow Jason @NascarJason