Ten races, 10 predictions and 10 different responses. NASCAR Talk’s Dustin Long and Nate Ryan don’t agree on what is going to happen in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway on NBCSN.
How would you answer the following questions? Who do you are agree more with? Dustin or Nate?
1 – Tony Stewart went from few people believing he had a chance to win the title in 2011 to winning the crown. Who could be this year’s Tony Stewart – i.e. the overlooked diver?
DUSTIN – Martin Truex Jr. He has the second-best average finish in races at Chase tracks this season (7.4). Crew chief Cole Pearn is aggressive in the style of Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski. The concern is that Truex’s success came early. He has three top-10 finishes in the last 11 races.
NATE – The same driver as last year – Ryan Newman. No one expected him to reach the championship round and finish runner-up in the 2014 points standings. He actually has two more top 10s and top fives entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season than last year.
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2 – Which Chase driver intrigues you the most?
DUSTIN – Kyle Busch. His career is littered with disappointments in the Chase. After a tremendous run to make the Chase despite missing the first 11 races, can Busch continue to dominate and score his first title? I want to see how he and his team handle these 10 races.
NATE – Clint Bowyer. He has been performing better since the drama began about Michael Waltrip Racing and its impending shutdown, but can Bowyer maintain that level during the playoffs with an uncertain future still looming for him and much of his crew?
3 – What track other than Talladega do you believe could shake the Chase?
DUSTIN – Dover. Only two Chase drivers finished in the top five (Jimmie Johnson won and Kevin Harvick was second), while four Chase drivers finished outside the top 20 in May. This can be a tough track with it being an elimination race, a problem here could dramatically impact who advances and who doesn’t.
NATE – Martinsville Speedway remains the second-biggest wild card – it effectively eliminated Brad Keselowski last year and nearly knocked out Kevin Harvick. With so much pressure to start the penultimate round, mistakes will be made, and they are magnified on a short track. Keep an eye on Kansas Speedway, too, where problems doomed Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year.
4- First driver confrontation among Chase competitors will be between …
DUSTIN – With all this talk about Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske being the dominant teams this summer, I see Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin reviving their feud from a few years ago. There’s a good bit of history there and it will only take one incident to start the pyrotechnics.
NATE – Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. A bookend to their confrontation at Daytona after the Sprint Unlimited. There has been the potential for many sparks in battles between them since then, and the Chase finally will ignite it.
5 – Does Jeff Gordon win a race this season?
DUSTIN – No. Unless Hendrick Motorsports comes out with some special cars, Gordon and his team have not shown that they have a car that can consistently challenge for wins.
NATE – Yes. But after being eliminated from the playoffs.
6 – Brad Keselowski was the No. 1 seed entering last year’s Chase. He won two Chase races but finished fifth in the points. How will Jimmie Johnson, the No. 1 seed this year, do in the Chase?
DUSTIN – Jimmie Johnson will be the lone Hendrick car to make the final four but won’t win the title.
NATE – He will win his seventh championship with his first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
7 – Who finishes the best among the Chase drivers without a win this season (Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer)
DUSTIN – Jamie McMurray. None of these drivers has show the speed to win on a consistent basis but McMurray has been steadier than the other four. McMurray will advance to the second round but his path to the title likely will end there.
NATE – Newman again will surprise the field by reaching the third round.
8 – There are six crew chiefs in their first Chase – Cole Pearn with Martin Truex Jr., Adam Stevens with Kyle Busch, Billy Scott with Clint Bowyer, Greg Ives with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt McCall with Jamie McMurray and Justin Alexander with Paul Menard). How could they impact the Chase?
DUSTIN – They’ll make an impact only if they have fast cars. With a fast car, a crew chief can dictate the race. Without it, they’re just trying wild gambles to get back up front.
NATE – Aside from Adam Stevens, who unshakably has proven his mettle through incessant adversity, none will reach the championship round. The learning curve will be steep for most.
9 – What’s something most are overlooking about this Chase?
DUSTIN – That if Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t win the title, it will mean the organization will have won one Cup championship in the last five seasons – that’s great for many organizations but that is considered a drought for Rick Hendrick. Should the organization not get a car in the final four for a second year in a row, one wonders if there will be changes with some teams in the offseason.
NATE – That its schedule lays out the same as last year’s (aside from Charlotte and Kansas being flopped in the second round), which will give an advantage to the drivers who endured the first season of the elimination format. The veterans already were tipping their hands at Richmond that they had learned much from Ryan Newman’s successful strategy last year.
10 – Who wins the championship?
DUSTIN – Kyle Busch. The controversial driver will create even more controversy among some fans by winning the title despite missing 11 races. Consider it the gift that keeps giving for critics and talk show hosts to discuss throughout the offseason.
NATE – Jimmie Johnson. His team quietly has been excellent in the past three races, though the results have belied its strengths. He hasn’t gone this long without leading a lap during his career, and the scales will tip the other way as they have before.