Well, here we are again my friends. Is Denny Da Man? An early Chase
lead in 2010 proved fleeting, as Five-Time swooped in for the last of a
historic run of titles. Hamlin won't get a great head start, as he has
not only never won in the Windy City but also has just a single top-five
and one top-10 to his name in six career races there. Heck, he has as
many finishes outside the top 30 as he does in the top 10 (31st last
season and 40th in 2008).
Remember this dude? Vaguely, huh? There was a whole season there in between now
and when he was holding a ridiculous five straight Cup title trophies.
He gets the chance to Chase another one starting Sunday in Chicago. But
this is one of those tracks that JJ has never been in love with and
looked downright mortal at considering some of his booming stats in
other domains. Johnson has nary a win, a couple seconds, a pair of
thirds and a single fourth-place. He's also coming off a 10th there last
year and a 25th in the last season of his championship run. Very, well,
normal for him at least.
Tony, Tony, Tony. A lot has been said about the man -- and by him,
quite honestly -- but here he is; in the Chase; ranked third in the
points standings. It won't be quite a year yet since Smoke revved up his
championship run by fighting off Matt and Martin (who will be fiery
Chasers again in Chicago) down the stretch for his third career
Chicagoland win -- the most by any Cup driver in the track's short
history. Not a bad place for a little d??j?? vu, maybe.
Bad-Fast Brad is definitely the next big thing in Cup, and next is
happening right now. He just made his first Chase last year and now, for
his second go-round, he's put himself in the top four to start out this
season's Chase race. It's no fluke either, as the driver of the Blue
Deuce answered his last major criticism of lacking consistency by
finishing the "regular season" by finishing in the top10 in nine of the
last 10 races, five of those in the top five and even notching a win.
He's only raced thrice at Chicagoland, but has made marked improvement
each time through -- going from 32nd to 18th to fifth. Is a win next?
The planets are back in alignment in the Galaxy of Greg with a 2012
Chase berth that may help him forget missing last season's "postseason"
-- his first Chase-less year since 2007. Biffle, aided by starting this
season with a trio of third-place finishes and winning in the seventh
race, sat atop or very near the top of the points standings all season.
He bolstered that with a late win at Michigan, cementing his
Chase-ification. But he's not going to love starting in Chicago. He's
only finished in the top 10 once (2008), and his 2011 finish was his
best in three years ... a 26th-place. Yeah, not good.
The leader of the Michael Waltrip Racing upstarts and owner of all of
its wins, Bowyer spun a so-so season into a fine (wine) one with a
Sonoma win. That big win came amidst nine top-10s in 13 races -- and
that's before he closed the book on the regular season with a win. He
hasn't gotten higher up in the standings than 10th in a season since
2008, but he has already tied his season-high Cup win tally with two.
But Chicago as a starting point for his Chase chances? He's sneaky-good
there, with top-10s in each of his last three races.
Junebug!!! He's back battling for the Cup championship!!! Or is he,
really? Yes, technically, he's in the Chase field of course, but he
certainly hasn't looked too tough on the race track since his big
slump-busting win at Michigan. Where you could feel him almost honing in
on that win in June, you could almost feel the mojo slipping away a bit
since. He's basically showing up in every other race since that win and
these are his last six finishes of the season:
32nd-28th-4th-12th-7th-14th. Meh. That expression also applies to his
Chicagoland output, where he has won once, and finished third there last
season, but has finished between 15th and 38th in one-third of his
The law of averages is the calling card of Kenseth. He just plugs
along, matches his highs and lows with one another, balancing ups and
downs. His regular season finished with three top-10s in his last eight
races ... he also has as many finishes at 23rd or higher in that same
span. He nailed that season-opening Daytona 500win ... then promptly
finished 13th and 22nd in his next two races. And, guess what? Same
thing at Chi-town. After pulling down a runner-up in 2007 and a seventh
in 2008, his next three finishes there were 23rd-13th-21st. Not too bad,
not too good.
Kevin is definitely the guy this year that you can look at and say,
"How'd he get into the Chase?" Zero wins. Not a lot of top-fives or,
really, top-10s comparatively to other Chase drivers. He just plain
didn't have a bad race. His worst run of the entire season was finishing
a not-too-awful 25th after crashing in Talladega. Chicagoland could
easily be where he makes the big move for the season, though. Although
he's just one season removed from a career-worst 34th at the track, he
has finished outside the top four just twice in the last six years. And
that's not even counting wins in his first two starts at the track.
The other Junior ... well, he's in the Chase, too. He hasn't snapped
his winless streak like his fellow second-coming-of-a-racing-namesake
did in 2012 (Martin's has been going on since 2007), but at least he's
playing the game for the first time in a long time. Truex, he of that
solitary career win in '07, has only sniffed the top 10 in points once
in his Cup career before this season. He's not as bad as you might
expect at Chicago, but hanging out in the teens at this race for a
career won't get him closer to a win.
Kasey is a bit like the flip side of Kevin's story. Unlike the
"how-did-he-get-here-winless-Harvick" situation, Kahn's motto might as
well be "two-wins-and-somehow-just-in" version of a season tale so far.
He's got as many or more wins than seven Chasers, and has been nasty
fast lately. The problem? Early struggles. In fact, with ugly finishes
in his first six races to the tune of 29th-34th-19th-37th-14th-38th it's
a small miracle that he's even in the postseason. He's a wild card,
literally and figuratively of course, at Chicagoland -- he has been
around the top five in the last three races there after an awful first
four shots at the track.
There's only one thing anyone worth their salt wants to talk about regarding
The Rainbow Warrior. That he got in amazingly on a last-ditch wild-card
effort at Richmond, right? Nope. It's what that wild card berth has
brought about a re-birth of ... The 'Stache. That's right, the amazingly
misguided, creepy evildoer pencil moustache that Jeff broke onto the
scene with in the early '90s is back in a bigger, grayer way. So,
stats-shmats ... let's see The 'Stache in action please. Right now. The
'Stache could shine right away in Chicagoland, where JG has six
top-fives in 11 races there, including a win. That's amazing ... just
not as much so as, yup, The 'Stache!