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, 3 top 5s, 3 top 10s
2. Matt Kenseth – 1 win, 1 top 5, 2 top 10s
3. Carl Edwards – 1 win, 2 top 5s, 2 top 10s
4. Brad Keselowski – 3 top 5s, 3 top 10s
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 2 top 5s, 3 top 10s
6. Denny Hamlin – 1 top 5, 1 top 10
7. Greg Biffle – 1 top 10
8. Clint Bowyer – 1 top 10
9. Kasey Kahne – 1 top 5, 1 top 10
10. Jeff Gordon – 1 top 10
11. Kyle Busch (Wild Card) – 1 top 5, 1 top 10
12. Tony Stewart (Wild Card) – 1 top 10
Sunday’s race at Las Vegas jumbled things up in the points with some drivers moving up in the standings and some moving down. The one thing about seeds one through five is that all five drivers ran in the top 10 at Vegas the majority of the race. However, four of the five seeds between sixth through 10th had lackluster races.
Of those ranked sixth through 10th, Kasey Kahne had the best race and could/would/should have won if not for bad fortune in the pits. Denny Hamlin’s team tried to use strategy to pull off a good finish but ended up with a mediocre result. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon were complete non-factors in the race which has to be cause for concern given that 1.5-mile tracks dominate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Other than Kahne, Kyle Busch was another driver who needed and received a good result. However, Busch was caught speeding entering the pits early on. While he was able to recover, it’s only a matter of time before similar mistakes will catch up to his performance. Tony Stewart started off Sunday’s race falling back through the field. Stewart’s crew was able to adjust his car and give him an 11th place finish. While the recovery was impressive, the 14 team can ill afford to dig themselves into a hole each week.
Just missing the cut: Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick
Aric Almirola continues to bring the 43 car home to solid finishes but he has to finish in the top 10 to be a real contender to make the Chase. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had several issues at Las Vegas which dropped him out of the top 10 seeds from last week. Paul Menard finished a solid 10th which moved him up in the standings while Joey Logano had a 12th place effort. Kevin Harvick had typical Kevin Harvick drive to finish ninth which helped him climb the points ladder as well.
Pretenders: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Labonte
Of these drivers, the only one who I feel might have an outside shot at making the Chase is Ambrose. However, he would have to win both road course events for that to happen, unless his performance really picks up. Burton, McMurray and Montoya have to really gain in the performance department as well before they even think about contending to make the Chase while the once great career of Bobby Labonte grows sadder as each race passes.
Cooking Gooses: Martin Truex, Jr., Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick
Truex finished eighth in Las Vegas, recovering from finishes of 24th and 36th in the first two events. However, he has a lot of work to do not only to close the gap between him and 10th in the standings but to get by the competition that’s ahead of him. The shine is starting to wear off Kurt Busch’s season. His 20th place effort was his best of the year but the fact he’s 29th in points behind drivers like Labonte, Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley, David Reutimann and Dave Blaney shows how off he’s been so far in 2013.
Ryan Newman’s fifth place finish at Daytona seems to be a distant memory with finishes of 40th and 38th the past two races it is going to be extremely difficult for the 39 team to recover from such huge hits points-wise. Danica Patrick’s run at Vegas was miserable and even though she was not a contender to make the Chase, many felt that she would at least be a top 20 contender. Should she continue to have races like she did Sunday, it will be hard for both she and her team to maintain their confidence.
The Underdogs: Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney
These four drivers are positioned 25th through 28th in points ahead of drivers like Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman. Of these drivers, Dave Blaney had the best finish Sunday with a 24th place effort. None of these guys will likely contend for wins but you can bet that there is a lot of pride that goes with being the highest finishing underfunded team.