If we're looking strictly at the numbers, and not the soul-crushing state that having
As the series heads to Fontana for the fourth playoff race, there are seven drivers within 85 points of Johnson. To put that into perspective, in 2004, the first year of the playoff, only two drivers faced a deficit of fewer than 100 points. There were five in '05, four in '06, two in '07 and three in '08 and '09.
Not everyone, though, is in on the parity. With
But could Bowyer have company?
Stewart remained stuck in 10th place after Kansas City, but he did cut 35 points off his points deficit as he finished in fourth, leading four times for a race-high 76 laps. The fact that four of the next five stops on the schedule (Fontana, Charlotte, Talladega and Fort Worth) are historically among his worst tracks, with a combined two wins in 81 starts, doesn't elicit much faith in Smoke.
But it's hard to argue with Stewart's recent performances on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks, as he has a win at Atlanta to go along with his day in K.C. Comparable tracks make up four of the last seven events in the playoff and Stewart has won on six of the upcoming tracks. Vying for the title may be a major stretch, but don't sleep on Stewart making a push with a schedule that appears tailor-made for him.
Handling issues cost Richard Childress Racing's elder statesman at Kansas as he saw a top-5 day fizzle into an 18th-place finish. He also slipped two spots in the points to ninth, but five of the final seven races are held at tracks where he has an average finish of 15.1 on better (Charlotte, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead) and he was third at Fontana earlier this season. Plus one teammate has produced a win (no matter how you want to view what happened with Bowyer, he's still your Loudon champ) and
Like his Roush Fenway Racing brethren, Kenseth thrived in Kansas, crossing the finish line six spots behind race winner
The performance ended a string of six races without a single-digit finish, but the question with Kenseth is whether he can use it to recapture the consistency that defined his early season. Over the first seven races, he was outside the top-8 just once, and while he's managed consecutive top 10s two other times, he hasn't kept it going. He has a chance to make a statement this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, where he's won three times and has 12 top 10s in 17 starts. His showing at K.C. will surely be cause for hope at Camp Ford. Unfortunately, little has happened over the last three months to make me think he can make a real run, having averaged a 14.7 finish since June 20.
1 -- Sunday will mark the first 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. The previous 20 installments had all been 500-milers.
4 -- Jeff Burton,