When it gets down to the final month before the Chase, tensions among drivers that are either in, on the cusp of being in, or just barely outside looking in, are higher than ever.
This year, with the change in the points system and how they are given to drivers each week, it has created an entirely new ball game with every green flag, every caution…every lap in essence. With four races to go, there were two drivers in the top-10 that were there based on their season, but soon found themselves in a position where one bad week means they are on the outside looking in. It really puts emphasis on wins more than anything.
Not only that, but the addition of the two Wild Card spots have given each driver a huge prerogative to go after a win each week.
The drivers that are already in the top-10 with multiple victories are pretty well guaranteed to be in the hunt for the title come September 17. At the same time, only four of the top-10 have two or more victories, and that only means four spots are pretty well guaranteed to be in the Chase.
This weekend at Michigan, up to four drivers could mathematically lock in their spot for the 2011 Chase just by doing well at Michigan. At the end of the day, only one of those four punched their ticket.
That was winner Kyle Busch, and when you look at how he has driven and raced this year, this season is one of the more guaranteed threats to win the championship. The last few years, Busch would dominate the first 26 races, but then in the final 10 would find issues, or have failures that were out of his doing.
This year, he’s been more consistent, and a bit calmer when things do not go his way. He’s also been able to handle the media a lot better, and not jump the gun when asked a question.
During an interview with ESPN’s Marty Smith, he was asked “How do you feel people perceive you?” His reply was, “Not very well,” but that actually works to his advantage. He can take all that negativity he put up with his first few years at Joe Gibbs Racing, and has used it to turn around people’s perception of him. He now has four victories this year, the most of any driver, and is in the lead both in the points now, and in the reseeding for the Chase.
Advantage Busch? I’d definitely say yes.
The only question left is can he close the deal, and finally capture the Sprint Cup championship? It is going to take a a pair of vice grips and an army to pull the championship away from Jimmie Johnson, but if anyone has a shot this year, it’s the guy nicknamed the “Wild Thing.”
RESULTS: 1-Kyle Busch 2-Johnson 3-Keselowski 4-Martin 5-Newman 6-Gordon 7-Kahne 8-Bowyer 9-Stewart 10-Kenseth
NOTABLE FINISHES: 14-Earnhardt Jr. 20-Biffle 22-Harvick 34-Hamlin 35-Kurt Busch 36-Edwards
CAUTIONS: 5 for 21 laps. Lap 30-34 (Debris), 54-57 (#47 spin-T2), 104-107 (Debris), 169-172 (#36 slow on track), 198-201 (#1, 22 accident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 10 drivers. Biffle 1-29, Kvapil 30-31, Mears 32, Biffle 33-50, Kenseth 51-53, Biffle 54, Kvapil 55, Martin 56-57, Biffle 58-88, Lally 89-91, Biffle 92-98, Kyle Busch 99-104, Kahne 105-107, Kenseth 108-113, Gordon 114-124, Kenseth 125-126, Gordon 127-139, Kenseth 140-143, Gordon 144-169, Johnson 170-187, Kyle Busch 188-203.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 41 Mins, 26 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 150.898 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.568 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Top-10, Wild Cards): 1. Kyle Busch, 799 points*; 2. Johnson, -10; 3. Harvick, -39; 4. Edwards, -39; 5. Kenseth, -50; 6. Gordon, -60; 7. Newman, -74; 8. Kurt Busch, -77; 9. Earnhardt Jr, -99; 10. Stewart, -105. WILD CARDS: Keselowski (12th, 2 wins), Hamlin (14th, 1 win).
*Clinched Chase berth in race