The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is 36 races long with competition starting back in February and racing all the way into mid-November to determine who will win the championship. There are still three events left on the schedule with what looks like a two-driver battle to the end.
Jimmie Johnson in his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has just a two point lead over Brad Kelselowski and his #2 Penske Racing Dodge, seven races into the Chase. Yes, there are other contenders such as third place Clint Bowyer who's 26 points out while fourth place Kasey Kahne is 29 points back. Theoretically, they should be considered but the two guys at the top have shown a leaders quality that keeps them in front. So the situation doesn't bode well for someone more than 20 points back with only three races to go.
Keselowski not going away
Johnson just won the Martinsville race and arguably has momentum heading into the last three events. But if Johnson thinks Keselowski is going away - this is a guy last year was desperately trying to get into the Chase and at Pocono, won with a broken ankle. Somebody as tough as Keselowski isn't going anywhere.
There are more than a few prognosticators who couldn't foresee Keselowski battling to the end, this close to the championship. He wasn't seasoned enough racing in only his third full year in Cup. Another drawback for Keselowski is he hasn't had much feedback from his fellow teammates because for one thing, A.J. Allmendinger, who started the season, was fired for a drug-suspension. Then replacement Sam Hornish Jr. is just temporary as he won't be in the car next season - so essentially, Keselowski has been on his own. Plus, Penske is moving to Ford next year and many including myself felt the Dodges wouldn't be competitive as a lame duck.
All of these strikes and yet Keselowski is only two points out. But as a fan, I've noticed some similarities between Keselowski and Johnson. Johnson was 28 and second overall in his third season. Johnson won eight races that year ('06) to lead in Cup victories; so far, Keselowski has five wins which also leads Cup series in victories this year. Plus, wasn't it Johnson who was second to veteran Matt Kenseth in '06 with three races remaining when Johnson won his first title and same thing happened again the following year yet he beat four-time champ and teammate Jeff Gordon?
So which one might win it all? There's an interesting fact that Johnson, who has won five championships, has never lost once he had the lead with three races to go. It's not the same as winning a Cup title, but Keselowski won a championship when he was crowned the 2010 Nationwide champ.
Johnson is a proven winner and logically should be considered the favorite at this point. But Keselowski has some intangibles and a way about him that says he also can win a championship. We'll see how well these two drivers perform in the final three races - one of the two will likely be holding the title as 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
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.