The NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is a 36 race grind that runs nine months long. However, the final ten-race Chase is what matters most. If Cup teams can make the 12-car cut, then that driver has as good a chance as any of the other eleven playoff competitors. But then the real work begins. There can't be many mistakes and the pressure just grows as the Chase races dwindle down.
But not everyone can win and more importantly, some drivers find out how mistakes, miscues or plain bad luck can end their dreams of a championship. Let's take a look at some of the teams who entered the Chase but haven't positioned themselves to win the Cup title. Think bottom five.
Matt Kenseth - Figuratively, the wheels started coming off the #17's chances of winning the championship when it became known he was leaving the team at the end of the year. Three finishes in the playoffs outside the Top 10, that included a 35th at Dover, ended any shot at making a run for a second title for Kenseth. Even a win at Talladega didn't move him out of last in the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - This looked like it might be Junior's year but the capability the #88 showed all year of consistently grabbing Top 10s evaporated when the Chase started. Heck, even I was enamored by his performance prior to the Chase - and picked the guy to win the championship a month ago. But there will be no joy in Junior Nation in 2012.
Kevin Harvick - Did 'Happy' Harvick ever have a chance at winning this season? There just didn't seem to be the same capacity for coming through the field that the #29 showed in past years. That inability to finish near the lead has continued in the Chase with no Top 10s. Richard Childress Racing and Harvick will have to regroup for 2013.
Greg Biffle - The first half of the season made it appear that 2012 would be #16's to lose. But too few top fives ruined the Biff's chance at winning the Sprint Cup championship this season. Even a decent finish at 'Dega hasn't helped the situation. How many more shots at a title does Biffle have?
Martin Truex Jr. - A model of consistency in 2012 put the #56 in the Chase. But a lack of aptitude to win or snatch very many top fives was a weakness coming into the Chase and now is why 2013 will have to be Truex's next chance at a championship.
Tony Stewart almost made this list but the three-time champ has a knack for winning and I can't write him off yet. Four-time champ Jeff Gordon has had a very up and down year but he has the car to win nearly every race so I didn't list him either … yet.
Sources - NASCAR, Racing Reference
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.