Trackside Duo: October 27, 2013

Photo- Getty Images
Photo- Getty Images

All drivers, team owners, and crews breathed a sigh of relief when every top Chaser made it out of Talladega. No major shakeups left the Chase standings looking recognizable, with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth still on top. Johnson now has control over the top spot, and Martinsville is a track where he has proven his dominance. For this championship battle to stay a fight into Texas, Kenseth will have to perform exceptionally well at the paperclip this weekend.

Trackside Duo was relieved after Talladega as well, as they are now able to more accurately predict how this year’s Chase may turn out. Read this week’s edition where the Duo predicts what’s going to happen and lets you know what they think drivers outside of the hunt will do over the next four weeks.

1) The wildcard race of the Chase didn’t play out as predicted last weekend at Talladega, with  no major shakeups in the points standings. As a result, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth stayed on top with a cushion as the final weeks approach. It’s getting less and less likely, but do you see any other driver getting back in the championship hunt at this point?

Alanis: That all depends on whether or not both Johnson and Kenseth stumble. With four races left, I don’t see either driver logging a bad finish without a bit of outside help – that is, from events outside of their control. As long as those two can avoid mechanical problems, on-track incidents, and any other terminal issues, everyone else is as good as done. If Johnson and Kenseth fall to ill fates at any point, Kyle Busch is fully capable of capitalizing as his only disappointing finish so far in this year’s Chase was at his worst track, Kansas.

Jason: There are two scenarios in which this could happen. One is if Johnson or Kenseth make a mistake. Any mistake that could lead to a bad finish would open the door for another driver. For this to become a reality and a third player to emerge in the title hunt,  then both Johnson and Kenseth would need to make that mistake. A very unlikely possibility considering how great each have been so far this Chase. The second scenario would be for Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon to have four superb weeks. If they can win at least two races before Homestead-Miami and place within the top-two in the other one, they may have a shot at Homestead. The best case for Busch or Gordon is for a combination of the two to occur. Will it happen? Likely not. Is it impossible? Definitely not.

2) Jimmie Johnson took over the points lead after surviving Talladega. He has a four-point advantage heading into the track where he was been victorious a total of eight times. Can Johnson dominate again this weekend and put himself well out in front in the title hunt?

Alanis: Though it’s one of his more challenging tracks, Matt Kenseth showed strength in the early part of the spring race at Martinsville and knows what is weighing on this weekend. I think that his momentum from the Chase so far this year will be able to carry him through this race, and he’ll be able to stay within striking distance of Johnson in points.

Jason: Johnson makes history at Martinsville. Whether it’s track history or championship title history, he usually accomplishes something big when the Chase takes a turn to the paperclip. A dominating performance would just about lock up the championship. Kenseth could go either way on Sunday, so for Johnson to pull away in the title hunt will be decided based off of how the No. 20 team performs.

3) Once the final weeks of the season come about, motivation is hard to come by for guys who are out of the championship picture. If you’re a driver like Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, or even Joey Logano, what’s your game plan for the final four races?

Alanis: Work on your Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead packages for next year; that’s all you can do at this point. It’s basically win or bust when it’s this late in the season and you’re not in the running for the title, so you might as well start experimenting for next year at no cost in the championship hunt.

Jason: Finish out the season on the highest note possible. You aren’t going to be celebrating in Homestead, but at least be able to finish the season knowing you did everything to make it the best year possible. Succeeding in these last few races could also provide momentum. Momentum can take a driver either way, but a good start to 2014 could begin with a few great runs at the end of 2013.

4) Classic short-track racing is scheduled for this weekend at Martinsville. This type of racing tends to always provide some bent-up sheet metal. Do you see Martinsville playing the wildcard role Talladega failed to be?

Alanis: When it comes to the top two in points, I don’t see Martinsville being a wildcard in this year’s Chase. Especially with Jimmie Johnson’s record at Martinsville, we all know that it will take something outlandish for anyone to gain points on him this weekend, and that’s not likely to happen.

Jason: Chase races are typically clean with little carnage and Martinsville tends to fall under that category. Sure, a few drivers may get ruffled up, but a major change in the standings doesn’t seem extremely possible. 2013 has been such a wild year already, so maybe a Chase shakeup isn’t coming. The championship hunt will be decided based on how hard these guys race over the next  four weeks.

5.) How do your final standings look after Talladega?

Alanis:

Original predictions:

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

Predictions following Talladega:

1.) Matt Kenseth

2.) Jimmie Johnson

3.) Kevin Harvick

4.) Kyle Busch

5.) Jeff Gordon

6.) Greg Biffle

7.) Clint Bowyer

8.) Kurt Busch

9.) Dale Earnhardt Jr.

10.) Carl Edwards

11.) Joey Logano

12.) Kasey Kahne

13.) Ryan Newman

Jason:

Original predictions:

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

Predictions following Talladega:

1.) Jimmie Johnson

2.) Matt Kenseth

3.) Kyle Busch

4.) Kevin Harvick

5.) Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6.) Jeff Gordon

7.) Greg Biffle

8.) Carl Edwards

9.) Clint Bowyer

10.) Ryan Newman

11.) Kurt Busch

12.) Joey Logano

13.) Kasey Kahne

Follow Alanis on twitter @alanisnking and follow Jason @NASCARJason

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