by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.August 25, 2009 3:52 pm UTC No Comments
With his win at Bristol last weekend, Kyle Busch finds himself only 34 points behind Matt Kenseth for the final spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The one we call “Rowdy” is looking to make up for a series of mediocre runs in the “regular season” and clinch a high playoff seed on account of his four wins.
In order for Rowdy to make it into the Chase, however, one of the current 12 drivers with playoff spots has to fall out. Six Chase drivers are within 100 points of Busch: Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, and Kenseth. Busch has to focus on beating this six-pack of drivers over the next two races to secure one of their berths.
Looking at those six drivers’ career statistics at Atlanta, site of next weekend’s race, nobody is a truly dominant driver at the Georgia track – but neither is Busch. Kenseth has the best average finish (13.8), but no wins at the track. Biffle’s record is comparable to Kenseth’s, albeit with a slightly worse average finish. Martin has two wins and a 17.2 average finish at Atlanta, but his last Atlanta win was in 1994.
Of the six aforementioned drivers, Kahne’s Atlanta statistics are most like Busch’s. Both drivers have one win at the track (Kahne’s in spring 2006, Busch’s in spring 2008) and average finishes in the neighborhood of 18th.
If history is any indication, the drivers most likely to lose ground in the Chase standings at Atlanta are Newman and Montoya. Despite his 5.6 average starting spot at the track, Newman’s average finish is a paltry 18.5; in four of his past six Atlanta races, he fell down at least one lap, and in a fifth, his engine gave out. Montoya’s first Atlanta race saw him finish fifth, but he’s either been lapped or had car troubles in all four races since.
Luckily for Rowdy, if he can make up ground at Atlanta next weekend, he should have a Chase berth in the bag; his average finish at Richmond, host of the final regular season race this year, is an astounding 6.1. While he only has one win at the track, it came this spring. In nine starts at Richmond, he has seven top 5s, a rare instance of consistency in his career. He’s never even failed to complete a lap at the track.
Again, history suggests that the most vulnerable driver of the six is Montoya, whose best finish at Richmond is a 10th earlier this year. Montoya and Biffle are the only two never to have won at Richmond, but Biffle’s 15.8 average finish is exactly 12 points better than Montoya’s. For the Colombian to hold onto his Chase spot, he has to drive as conservatively as he has all year, and avoid making mistakes like he did in the pits at Indianapolis.
Biffle and Martin appear to be the safest drivers in the bottom six of the Chase, especially based on momentum. Biffle has three top 5 finishes in his past five races, for a 9.6 average finish. As for Martin, his entire year has been defined by streaks of bad finishes followed by streaks of good ones. Last week’s second place at Bristol could easily be the start of another string of solid runs for The Kid.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.