This season has been nowhere near conventional. Wild circumstances have given the year a shaking on numerous occasions. From the green-flag in Daytona to a bizarre ending to the regular season in Richmond, the regular season was anything but tame. The sports passion has been ramped up for 2013 and some credit is due to the Gen 6 car. This new car has made for thrilling moments throughout the first 26 races and whatever is to come in the cars first Chase will surely be spectacular.
It was hard to predict who would do well coming into the season, but now, the championship favorites have emerged. Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch will begin the Chase as the top three seeds and each has made a case this season to be called a post-season favorite. You can’t count drivers like Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, or Kevin Harvick out though since they usually were running as well as the other drivers throughout the regular season.
With no telling tale on how the next ten weeks will pan out, I give my predictions regarding how I see the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup will conclude this season.
13. Greg Biffle
Quiet describes Biffle’s season to date. Besides his Michigan win, he and his team haven’t made too much noise. They were consistent enough to earn a top-ten spot, but nothing stands out that say they could contend in the Chase. Biffle’s best bet is to win and win often and hope that the other races go his way. A miracle is what this team will need for a championship run and it doesn’t seem as one will be going his way anytime soon.
12. Jeff Gordon
As much as this team could use the motivation they received from missing the Chase only to be put in a week later to succeed, I don’t see it. Gordon has done little this season to show he can win his fifth championship. Wrecks along with poor finishes have left this team hanging on the edge of the cliff all season and if they keep it up, they will fall of that cliff very early in the final ten events.
11. Kurt Busch
His Chase story is incredible. Busch carried his Furniture Row Racing team on his back for most of the season. He was determined to beat the odds and get this one horse team from Colorado in the field of twelve. What he can do in the Chase is up in the air. At Richmond, he proved he can run well when he has to, but he’ll have to run exceptionally well over the next ten weeks and that may be a hard feat to pull off.
Seeing Busch begin the race up front has been a trend this season, but when he starts up there, he usually doesn’t finish there. Maintaining a calm composure will also be a challenge for him as this has plagued him throughout the last few years. Lots of things may pull him down in the Chase and if he can’t fight through those events, he likely won’t do much this postseason
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. has been just hanging around for a majority of the season. He hasn’t been in contention that often but somehow, he still remains consistent. If he is a threat for the championship, we will have to see something new come out of him. Doing what he has been doing all season won’t work. He needs to be rough and tough to put his season on a championship course. This all will be a first if it were to happen, so don’t expect the fan favorite to be super competitive in the final ten races.
9. Ryan Newman
If there is one feel-good driver in the Chase this season, it is Ryan Newman. He and his team made a major Chase push after finding out that Newman would not be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and that has left some cheering for the No.39 team. Going out strong will be a goal for this team and that could lead them to some success in the Chase. Newman will be a threat at times, but he won’t do anything spectacular to close out the season.
8. Kevin Harvick
Already this season, Harvick has proven everyone wrong. Pre-season predictions had his end of the season move to Stewart-Haas Racing dragging the No.29 team down, but it has done the opposite of that. If anything, it brought this team closer for one last shot at the championship. A go for broke attitude could be something the team could bring in the next ten races, but the Chase is not a sprint. It is a marathon. That mindset may be what the team adapts and if they do, a strong start is possible, but they will fade as the Chase progresses. Watch for Harvick to start out strong, but fall back as the week’s progress.
7. Clint Bowyer
Distraction will plague this team. The controversy surrounding Richmond will never leave Bowyer alone long enough for him to do anything. His knowing how to be consistent will allow him to remain around somewhat, but he would be more of a threat had Richmond not happened. Don’t look for the No.15 team to fall off the map, but don’t expect them to be competing for the championship at Homestead.
6. Joey Logano
Momentum can speak volumes for some teams. It has carried this team from way outside of the Chase to right in the thick of championship discussions. Logano’s Michigan win did more for him than it would have done for other drivers. He and his team feel on top of the world right now and that feeling will lead to a somewhat competitive final portion of the season for the No.22 team. He will hang around longer than some guys, but not long enough to hoist the Sprint Cup.
5. Carl Edwards
A much stronger Carl Edwards began the season in Daytona. The Daytona 500 might not have proven that, but the next race in Phoenix did. He won for the first time in almost two years. That victory showed the team that they can compete and that they can be a factor this season. All season long, they have stuck around and now going into the Chase, something new will have to emerge. Something like what they had in 2011 will need to come out of the team if they want the championship. Edwards been doing great all season and whatever needs to emerge for him to stick around will and he will be a threat for much of the Chase.
4. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has experienced a season like never before in 2013. Five wins have him as the top Chase seed and that is something that seems to not pressure Kenseth any. If he hasn’t been winning this season, he hasn’t been super consistent though. He will need to pick that up if he wants a shot at the championship and I believe he will. Victories will come and so will decent finishes in a combination that will put the No.20 team in the middle of championship discussions for most of the ten races.
3. Kasey Kahne
The surprise driver of the Chase will be Kasey Kahne. Kahne has been very good this season and all of what he has done in just under two years with Hendrick Motorsports will show when he has a phenomenal Chase run. He will win some, place high in some, and do what he needs to do in some in a championship effort in which Kahne has never experienced before. Homestead will provide opportunity for Kahne and whether or not he takes that will have to be seen once the season finale arrives.
2. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch’s season has been different this year. Four wins along with usual consistent performances have shown he will contend in the Chase. This team has been band together for many seasons now and finally, they have struck a potential championship winning cord. Busch will be on top of the standings for most of the ten races and there is no doubt he will go into Homestead-Miami with a shot to win his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
1. Jimmie Johnson
A fabulous season comes down to ten races for the No.48 team. All year long, they have been on fire. No matter what track, they find a way to the front of the field. Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have mastered the Gen 6 car more than any other team in the garage has. They have been hovering atop the point’s standings ever since their Daytona 500 victory and in a race or two; Johnson will likely regain that position. Combine his dominant season and the team’s superb knowledge of the Chase and that is the making of a champion. Not just any champion, a potential six-time one. History will unfold over the course of the next ten races all leading up to the Sprint Cup being raised by Jimmie Johnson once again.
By Jason Schultz