Almost eight months following NASCAR’s landmark announcement regarding the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, the time to write a new chapter in the sport’s history has arrived.
Excitement has been building around the new format all season-long. The importance placed on winning has increased the competition level in almost every race. Now, 13 victors along with three drivers in on points are about to embark on potentially the wildest ten races in the sports’ history. Its new, its different and it will surely be fun to watch.
How Will It Work?
Despite the new format being simplified, fans are still learning the details of it. I summed up how the round system, eliminations and final race will work in this infograph.
Still confused? Check out this video with four of the contenders who spread the word about the new system.
#MyChaseNation (What Is This?)
One of the neat fan initiatives NASCAR has launched along with the new format is referencing driver fan bases as “nations.” Instead of fans supporting a single driver, they will pledge their allegiance to the drivers “nation.” For example, if you’re a Kyle Busch fan, you’re included in #RowdyNation. Post pictures on social media showing your devotion and use the hashtag’s associated with your favorite driver. You never know, you could win some cool prizes.
The Nation Names and Hashtag’s
Brad Keselowski: Brad Nation, #GoingFor2
Kevin Harvick: Harvick Nation, #HarvickNation
Kasey Kahne: Kahne Nation, #Kahne5
Denny Hamlin: Denny Nation, #Denny11Nation
Greg Biffle: Biffle Nation, #BiffleNation
Kyle Busch: Rowdy Nation, #RowdyNation
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth Nation, #KensethNation
Joey Logano: Logano Nation, #TeamJL
Jeff Gordon: Gordon Nation, #Gordon24
Ryan Newman: Newman Nation, #NewmanNation
Kurt Busch: Outlaw Nation, #OutlawNation
Aric Almirola: Aric Nation, #43AANation
A.J Allmendinger: AJ Nation, #DingerNation
Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie Nation, #Johnson48
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: JR Nation, #EarnhardtJr88
Carl Edwards: Carl Nation, #CarlNation
This year’s Chase is undoubtedly the most unpredictable in NASCAR’s history. Wild things tend to happen during playoff or tournament season in sports and the same can be expected this fall. Unlike in past years when only three or four drivers are considered the favorites to win it all, there are easily ten drivers with a legitimate shot this season.
Having an endless possibility of outcomes means the competition will be fierce. While predicting how everything will play out may seem impossible, I offer my predictions leading into the opening race in Chicago.
Contender Round (Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega)
Who Makes It In
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Allmendinger is the only choice I made that I believe needs justification. I’m confident this team can put together three solid weeks to begin the Chase. They have shown to be consistent throughout the regular season and have had some impressive performances. Based off the drivers I have being eliminated after the first round, he has the most potential to sneak into the round of 12.
First Four Eliminated after Dover
His rocky season won’t magically turn around now. Momentum will be a big factor in who performs well early and I don’t see the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet team doing that.
Along with Allmendinger, he’s the underdog story of the Chase. Typically during the NCAA Basketball Tournament, one Cinderella teams posts an early upset. I’m leaning towards that being the Watkins Glen winner rather than the Daytona one.
A red-flag is raised due to his performance in Richmond. What scares me most is that when he needed to perform best, he couldn’t put much of a run together. The only way he advances is if he wins in New Hampshire or Dover where he swept the opening races during the 2008 Chase.
If there is one battle to keep an eye on in Dover, it will be between Newman and the drivers just inside of the top-12. He has been very consistency throughout the year, but I haven’t seen anything to convince me that this team will be enough of a threat to move on.
Eliminator Round (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix)
Who’s Makes It In
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Kenseth remains Joe Gibbs Racing’s (JGR) only title hope. His strong performances this season will allow him to make it this far.
Logano will be right on the edge throughout the Talladega race. His lack of experience in the Chase might hurt his chances of moving past the Contender round. If he can advance which I believe he does, he’ll be one to watch in the Eliminator Round.
Next Four Eliminated after Talladega
Unless JGR finds more speed this fall, Busch won’t advance past the Contender Round. He hasn’t shown as much horsepower or consistency as usual which makes it difficult to expect a title run from this team. Kansas Speedway will also be a thorn in his side and could take him out of contention early on in the round.
Like his teammate, without additional speed, the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team won’t advance past the sixth race.
Unless he escapes the bad luck that plagued the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet team throughout the regular season, I don’t see them turning into a threat.
This organization’s Cinderella run will end after the Contender Round. The upset teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament typically don’t make it far past their shocking victory and the same will apply for Allmendinger.
Sprint Cup Championship (Homestead-Miami)
The key to making it to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is winning one of three races in the Eliminator Round. When looking at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Speedway, one stands out blaringly for the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet team. Martinsville.
Johnson and Martinsville go together like peanut butter and jelly. He has won eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at the track. It is his second best track wins wise with Dover International Speedway leading the way as he has won there nine times. Expect this team to earn their spot in the “Final Four” early on in the round of eight.
His four victories this season share one common aspect – dominance. In each, he crushed the field in route to the checkered-flag. For a team as good as this not to make it all the way would come as a shock. Team Penske took the checkered-flag in Texas during the April race and that will aid the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford crew in possibly making it to Victory Lane.
With the pit crew issue fixed, the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet team quickly becomes a title favorite. The final race of the round at Phoenix International Raceway will also factor in as Harvick is almost a lock to win in the desert. Things are looking good for this team.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He may be the one driver to make the finale without a win in the Eliminator Round. Consistency has been the most popular word in this article and it will be vital for the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet team. They strive to stay consistent and it paid off during the regular season as they found success around almost every corner. Watch out for Earnhardt Jr.
The dream season Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte have put together will end in triumph. I like the way this team has been doing things all season long and the new Chase format suits their style. Of course, they will need to put together a perfect performance in Homestead-Miami, but they are capable of doing so. Beating Johnson will be the biggest obstacle. However, I have faith that Junior Nation will celebrate in South Beach.
Chase Race Winner Predictions
Chicagoland: Brad Keselowski
New Hampshire: Joey Logano
Dover: Jimmie Johnson
Kansas: Kevin Harvick
Charlotte: Matt Kenseth
Talladega: Jeff Gordon
Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson
Texas: Brad Keselowski
Phoenix: Kevin Harvick
Homestead-Miami: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No matter how the Chase turns out, fans will be pleased. What NASCAR has done in efforts to ramp up the excitement is incredible. They are so committed to putting on a show for the fans and that will come across during all ten races. The Chase has seen drama before but never on the level that is coming. Hold on tight because these next few months will be thrilling.
The Chase is on.