Chase Roundtable: Who will win the Sprint Cup title and more
November 17, 2011
Roundtable: Who will win the title and more
Racing writers Lars Anderson, Bruce Martin, Brant James, Tim Tuttle and Dustin Long make their picks for Sprint Cup's finale and more. (Send comments to email@example.com)
Which driver benefited the most from the Chase?
ASP/Cal Sport Media
Lars Anderson Tony Stewart. This is a no-brainer. Entering the playoffs Stewart hadn't won a race, had only a handful of top-10s and had struggled so mightily over the summer that he admitted he didn't belong in the Chase. But as soon as the 10-race playoff began, Stewart came alive, winning four of the first nine races. He is living proof of why the Chase format is so compelling.
Brant James Tony Stewart. Winless in the regular season and frustrated, the two-time series champion has won four times in the Chase and is within three points of nabbing points leader Carl Edwards on Sunday at Homestead. He once didn't think he deserved a postseason berth, and now he knows he's racing well enough to win a title.
Dustin Long Brad Keselowski. He entered as a wild card but showed he was capable of contending. Experience can play such a key role in the Chase. This experience could help him in future title runs.
Bruce Martin Tony Stewart. In mid-August Stewart was winless and struggling to stay in the top 10 in the standings and he uttered the infamous line that he didn't deserve to be in the Chase because he would be taking a position away from another driver and team more deserving. But if any driver experience a renaissance once the 10-race Chase began, it was Stewart. He won the first two races of the Chase at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, elevating himself to an immediate contender. Despite a mid-Chase slump, he came on strong with back-to-back victories at Martinsville and Texas and that has placed him in position to contend for his third Cup title heading to the season finale at Homestead this weekend.
Tim Tuttle Tony Stewart. He was ninth in the points in the regular season, 90 behind third-place Carl Edwards, but his four Chase wins have vaulted him within three of Edwards' lead with one race remaining.
Who was the biggest Chase flop?
ASP/Cal Sport Media
Anderson Kyle Busch. Every year, it seems, Busch is a favorite among garage insiders to win his first title. And then, every year he fades as the temperatures cool. This year he was his own worst enemy, as NASCAR suspended him for a race after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday under caution during a Truck race at Texas -- not that Busch would have been a factor even if he hadn't been parked for a race.
James Kyle Busch. Kyle Busch, again, and he was driving so well before NASCAR parked him at Texas. He entered the Chase as the points leader but once again foundered -- some by his doing, some because of mechanical issues. He is wasting his prime.
Long Kyle Busch. One keeps waiting for him to make an impact in the Chase, but his career is littered with flameouts. Despite all his Truck, Nationwide and Cup victories, he's building a reputation for his Chase failures. The question is when will he turn it around in the Chase?
Martin Denny Hamlin. Although he got in as the final wild-card driver, he was never a factor in the Chase. He started off slow and never improved, only advancing in the points when NASCAR suspended teammate Kyle Busch for one race and Jeff Gordon struggled. Just two points ahead of Gordon in the standings, Hamlin can still drop out of the top 10 in the final race of the season.
Tuttle Kyle Busch. He has two top-sixes prior to his NASCAR suspension, but has had the worst luck of any driver in the Chase -- taken out in a multi-car crash at Talladega, by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville and a blown engine at Phoenix. It's easy to forget Busch was fourth in the points, 18 back, five races into the Chase.
What was your favorite Chase race?
David J. Griffin/Icon SMI
Anderson Homestead. The one that hasn't been run yet: Homestead. This is the closest Chase in history -- Carl Edwards leads Stewart by only three points -- and I firmly believe that the title won't be decided until the last turn of the last lap. This should garner NASCAR its highest TV rating in years.
James Talladega.Stewart vs. five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson on a final restart. One trying to win a third title, one trying to perpetuate his string of championships. Stewart wins, jumps from 18 points out and in fourth to second, eight points back in the standings and begins applying verbal heat to points-leader Carl Edwards. Classic stuff.
Long Martinsville. Carl Edwards went a lap down. Tony Stewart nearly did. Matt Kenseth seemed poised to take the points lead until his on-track squabbles with Brian Vickers changed everything. An incident between Kenseth and Vickers helped give Stewart the chance to rally and pass Jimmie Johnson on the outside on the final restart to win. An action-packed and drama-filled race.
Martin Martinsville. Although it took a long time to get to the finish, the Oct. 30 race was quite a show. It had all of the fender-banging action that NASCAR fans love to see on a short track and several instances of road rage from Brian Vickers, who derailed Jimmie Johnson's quest to give team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th Cup victory. When the green flag waved with three laps to go, Tony Stewart made a daring move to the outside to make the race-winning pass and vault himself back into serious championship contention.
Tuttle Martinsville. Tony Stewart's rally and outside pass of Jimmie Johnson for the lead with three to go for a win that put him in position to win the championship is the stuff that makes legends.
Should NASCAR expand the Chase field?
Worth Canoy/Icon SMI
Anderson No. Absolutely not. To have more than 12 drivers in the Chase would diminish the importance of actually qualifying for the playoffs. I think 12 is the perfect number.
James No. It's too large now. The field should be the top eight in driver points and two wild cards determined by wins. Granted, one of two still viable for the championship (Stewart) wouldn't have qualified for the postseason under that format.
Long No. Any more drivers added will only water it down further.
Martin No. If anything NASCAR should shrink the Chase field, but maintain the wild-card entry. The fact that two drivers with wins were able to get the final two positions added some drama to the regular season, but Brad Keselowski was the only wild-card driver to make a statement, as he raced himself to fourth in the Chase with one race remaining. By contracting the Chase field rather than expanding it NASCAR would make the field even more elite. Drivers such as Earnhardt, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin didn't really add much to the overall 10-race drama.
Tuttle No. Twelve is a good place to separate those who perform well enough to go into the playoff races and those who don't. NASCAR should keep the wild-card format for 11th and 12th place. It opened the door for multiple drivers to get into the Chase.
Are you satisfied with the current Chase scoring, which favors consistency, not victories?
Brian Cleary/Icon SMI
Anderson Yes. Unlike many who cover the sport, I think consistency should matter just as much as winning. I'm fine with it.
James Yes. A long season (36 races) and 10-round playoff should reward the most consistent driver. It will, this season, if Edwards wins. He led the standings for 23 of 35 weeks.
Long Yes. Carl Edwards is poised to have one of the greatest Chases in terms of average finish. He's averaging a top-five finish for the first nine races and people want to change the system? There's always been a balance between consistency and winning. If you want to tweak it, give another bonus point or two to the driver who leads the most laps. That might encourage drivers to go for it more during a race.
Martin No. The last time a Cup champion won the title with just one victory was 2003 when Matt Kenseth lulled the competition to sleep with consistency. The next year NASCAR instituted the Chase, which remains a polarizing concept to many NASCAR fans who believe the emphasis should be on racing and not Chasing. Tony Stewart's four victories in the Chase has been quite impressive, but if Edwards becomes the champion with just one victory -- none in the Chase -- this system will continue to be scrutinized despite the prospects for a razor-slim margin.
Tuttle No. I'd modify it and give the race winner five bonus points instead of three. But fundamentally, the system needs to reward winning and consistency and the balance it has is in the right ballpark.
Who will win the Chase?
Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE
Anderson Tony Stewart. I made my pick in the magazine earlier this week: Smoke. I think you'll see Stewart win on Sunday and Edwards finish second. Under this scenario, the two would end up tied in the final standings, but Stewart would win the title because he'd have more wins this season than Edwards, which is the tiebreaker.
James Carl Edwards. Edwards has been a points-amassing machine, fending off Stewart despite his four Chase victories, and he is a marauder at Homestead.
Long Carl Edwards. He's too tough at Homestead. Tony Stewart made a heck of a run and made this one of the most entertaining Chases, but he'll likely end up a footnote in Edwards' title season.
Martin Carl Edwards.If you had asked me one week ago I would have said Tony Stewart because he came to Phoenix just three points behind points leader Carl Edwards. Stewart dominated much of last Sunday's race and it appeared he would leave Phoenix with the Chase lead, but an air pressure adjustment on a set of tires in his next-to-last pit stop squandered Stewart's advantage and he finished third, one position behind Edwards to remain three points out. The final race of the Chase is at Homestead and that favors Edwards, the defending race winner there. That his team owner Jack Roush's Fords have won seven of the 12 Cup races contested at Homestead means advantage Edwards, who will win the Cup by the narrowest of margins. And while Edwards may win the championship, Stewart certainly stole the show in this year's Chase.
Tuttle Carl Edwards. Carl Edwards, based upon his recent performances at Homestead: two wins in the last three races, four top-fives and six top-10s in six career races. Edwards led 190 of 267 laps there last year. But expect Tony Stewart to run well, too and give Edwards a run for the money.
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