March 3, 2013; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) during the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Chase For The Sprint Cup Seed Projections (After Two Races)

The following is a projected seeding for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Seeding is based upon a driver’s performance thus far in the season as well as the projected performance of a driver based on their history.  This is similar to most power rankings but focuses on the seeding for the Chase rather than race-to-race performance.

1. Jimmie Johnson – 1 win, 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s
2. Carl Edwards – 1 win, 1 top 5, 1 top 10
3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s
4. Brad Keselowski – 2 top 5s,2 top 10s
5. Clint Bowyer – 1 top 10
6. Denny Hamlin – 1 top 5, 1 top 10
7. Greg Biffle – 1 top 10
8. Jeff Gordon – 1 top 10
9. Matt Kenseth – 1 top 10
10. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
11. Tony Stewart (Wild Card) – 1 top 10
12. Ryan Newman (Wild Card) – 1 top 5, 1 top 10

It is still early to say who which drivers will be the favorites to lock in positions one through 10 but based off history, the first nine listed in this week’s projections will be tough to beat.  Keep in mind Mark Martin will not be running the full schedule and will fall in the standings.  Right now, I am a big believer in Stenhouse’s potential to get in the Chase.  He has run well in both races so far and most definitely has the equipment and talent to stay up in the thick of things this season.

Matt Kenseth in 18th in the standings but he won’t be there long.  He’s too good of a driver and he has two good of a team.  The same can be said for Tony Stewart who is 23rd in the standings.  His had a strong race at Phoenix which was huge for both driver and team considering the terrible disappointment at Daytona.  Speaking of disappointment, Ryan Newman had a terrible day this past weekend at Phoenix but Newman has had a way of sneaking in a race win the past few seasons which is why he gets the final Wild Card position.

Just missing the cut: Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano.

Almirola holds down ninth in the standings which is higher than Stenhouse but his Richard Petty Motorsports team does not have the championship history that the 17 team does.  Consistency is the big question for four of the five drivers listed here.  Outside of Logano, it is hard for me to believe that these other four drivers can put together a stretch of really good finishes.  Of the drivers just missing the cut, Logano is without question the one who can do it.  The team and the talent are there and he has been a top 10 contender in both races thus far in the season.

Pretenders who are high in points: J.J. Yeley, Bobby Labonte, David Reutimann, Casey Mears.

Barring a miracle, none of these drivers will hold their position in the standings for much longer.  Yeley, Reutimann and Mears’ teams do not have the finances to compete week-to-week.  In fact, it is not certain whether Yeley will race the entire season.  Bobby Labonte’s JTG/Daugherty Racing team would have to make a big step up performance wise for the 2000 Winston Cup Champion to even hope to finish in the top 15 every single week.

Contenders in trouble: Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr.

While Newman and Stewart are the projected Wild Card drivers, both have to do a lot of looking over their shoulder at some pretty stiff competition.  To put in perspective the challenge Kahne, Harvick, the Busch brothers and Truex face, they all are lower in points than Michael McDowell who did not race at Phoenix while the Busch brothers and Truex are all lower in the standings than A.J. Allmendinger who did not race at Daytona.

Kasey Kahne is 29th in standings with finishes of 36th and 19th in the first two events.  His race at Phoenix was not particularly impressive but you have to believe that he will be able to recover from this early season swoon.  Of the drivers listed here, Kevin Harvick may be the most at risk considering his status as a lame duck driver at Richard Childress Racing.  All sides have said the right things but it’s going to be a chore for everyone involved to get from 30th into the top 10.

Most people felt that Kurt Busch would be a serious contender to make the Chase going into this season but he has found misfortune in both races so far.  He might be in the most trouble since his Furniture Row Motorsports team is only a single car operation and does not have major sponsorship backing.  Kyle Busch made two errors at Phoenix that cost he and his team dearly.  He can ill afford to keep throwing races away and losing points to those ahead of him.

Martin Truex, Jr. has had mechanical woes in the two opening races.  In this day and age, it is rare to see one of the upper echelon teams have issues like this in back-to-back weeks but Truex will have his hands full trying to recover considering he’s 34th in the standings and has so many good drivers and teams to get by.

Tags: Chase For The Sprint Cup Jimmie Johnson NASCAR

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