The Chase for the Championship starts Sunday. While everything that happened in the first 26 races won’t matter during the playoffs, it does provide a glimpse of what could happen in the next 10 races.
A month ago Jimmie Johnson appeared to be heavy favorite to win his sixth championship. But finishes of 28th or worse in his past four races, suggest he might not be as formidable as feared.
Matt Kenseth has a season-best five wins, but he also has failed to finish three times. Carl Edwards earned the most points during the regular season, but there are a couple Chase tracks that really don’t suit him.
While there might not be a clear-cut favorite this year, some drivers still seem to have an advantage over others. Here’s a look:
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: Johnson, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
Despite his late season swoon, nobody expects Johnson to continue to struggle.
Kenseth led the series in wins, but he also has seven finishes of 22nd or worse.
Busch is clearly fast enough to win the championship. But also like Kenseth, he’s hit or miss with eight finishes of 24th or worse.
Logano has six top-eight finishes in the past seven races.
SNEAKY FAST: Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Edwards and Kasey Kahne.
The older of two brothers in the playoffs has momentum.
Biffle has been better at some of his toughest tracks to get into the Chase.
Edwards finished the regular season as the points leader with eight top-fives.
When Kahne’s good, he’s unbeatable. But when he’s bad, he’s been really bad.
HOPE AND PRAYER: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
Earnhardt Jr. is one of three drivers in the playoffs who hasn’t won a race this year.
Newman got an 11th-hour reprieve to get into the Chase.
Harvick has only two top-10 finishes in his past seven races.
And that leaves Clint Bowyer, whose organization was fined $300,000 and his teammate, Martin Truex Jr., was kicked out of the Chase when NASCAR determined Bowyer intentionally spun his car with seven laps remaining at Richmond to affect the Chase.