Things have taken a turn for the surreal in the 2013 race for the Chase with Tony Stewart’s absence from the race at Watkins Glen (and probably more) as NASCAR’s so-called “regular season” heads down the home stretch. Smoke had to be regarded as one of the favorites at The Glen with five career wins at the road course.
Now with five races to go before the Chase field is set, a tight race gets tighter. 24 points separate 10th place Greg Biffle from 15th place Ryan Newman. 13 points separate Biffle from 8th place Kasey Kahne.
First, you really can’t count out Stewart. If we assume he misses three races, he probably won’t get in on points. At the same time, the three-time champion could hold a wild card berth on wins if he can somehow land more by Richmond’s end. His ace in the hole is he can win virtually anywhere. If he misses more than that, it will really get tough.
Let’s assume the top ten stay within the top ten; it’s not a real stretch considering that if Kasey Kahne falls, his two wins get him no worse than a wild card berth. Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle survive, because like Smoke, there’s any number of places coming up on the schedule where they can solidify their standing by winning or simply running well.
If we assume that, things are still quite interesting if Stewart doesn’t make it. 2004 champ Kurt Busch doesn’t have a 2013 win, but he has a 10.6 average finish over his last ten races. He stands to benefit the most if Gordon or Biffle bobble. Defending champion Brad Keselowski also lacks a win, but he should be expected to fare well at Watkins Glen as an underrated road racer, and he’s also a favorite for the night race at Bristol. Bad Brad has had a number of good finishes and has even looked like a winner a time or two, he has to get a win or two somewhere and avoid runs like Sonoma, Michigan or Indianapolis.
I wouldn’t have put anything on Ryan Newman until recently. The win at the Brickyard was huge for the future free agent’s fortunes. Rocket has two career wins at MIS and Richmond suits his driving style. The fact he’s had five DNFs don’t bode well for, nor does his occasional capacity for stringing together mediocre runs. He’s racing for his future- so there will be no questioning Newman’s motivation.
Martin Truex Jr. currently holds the other wild card spot. The win at Sonoma has put a real spring in his step. The victory was the meat in a sandwich that included top tens at Michigan and Kentucky. Consistency is his issue. Any big success he has in the next five races will be blazing new trails for the Marietta, New Jersey native possesses no record of achievement. The good news for Truex is this hasn’t been just any year for him.
If it sounds as though I’m forecasting Chase spots for Busch and Keselowski, you may just be right. They’ve got the track record, the confidence and the team support one needs to make it happen. Of course, Newman, Truex or even Joey Logano or Stewart could prove me famously wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. One thing it will do is produce a number of racers racing for wins, and that’s the kind of spirit NASCAR fans need for good racing.