Drivers and teams hold the breadth and try to be as positive as possible but expect the worse at Talladega Superspeedway. When they head to a restrictor plate event like this past Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, being that this particular race is part of the Chase, extra pressure and concerns were everywhere. As we all might have heard from several different drivers prior to the race, they just hoped for the best.
And now that they're four races into the playoffs and it's after 'Dega (AD), who is still honestly in the running for the championship? Here are the 12 drivers divided into three groups: the haves, the have-nots and those that aren't quite out of it but would take an incredible comeback to win - otherwise known as the maybe's.
Obviously, Matt Kenseth was already out of it heading into 'Dega because the guy won and yet he's still last and over 60 points back. Joining Kenseth is someone who had title considerations right up until AD and that's Dale Earnhardt Jr. His 20th pretty much sealed his fate. Another driver who had aspirations - as slim as they were - was Kevin Harvick. Happy needed a win and anything outside the top two or three wasn't acceptable.
Greg Biffle was lucky enough to escape the 'big one' for the most part, but he was essentially out of it already so his sixth place didn't really matter. Martin Truex Jr. was in a similar boat as Harvick so it didn't matter where he finished.
To be truthful, I'm being generous with saying, maybe. All four of these drivers would need to have considerable luck on their side to win the Sprint Cup championship at this point in time. The guy who started the big one at 'Dega, Tony Stewart, has shown he can win races but his crash and subsequent 22nd spot doesn't bode well at this juncture. Jeff Gordon has had the oddest season I've ever seen by a team. When they're on, they are one of the best, but when things go awry, it gets ugly for the former champ. He needs some wins and lots of help along the way.
Clint Bowyer took a hit at 'Dega and his chances now have dimmed, AD. Bowyer has had a very good year; however, he'll need guys ahead of him to struggle while he wins a couple races. Kasey Kahne has been one of the more consistent drivers in the second half of the season. And, with his ability to get to the front, he can make a charge to the head of the pack but will have to either win a couple races or hope the three leaders have some issues along the way.
Denny Hamlin has shown all year he can win and stay near the front. Even AD - he had a 14th - he's only 23 points back and will continue to put pressure on the other two ahead of him. Jimmie Johnson has had another 'five-time' like year and even though he was 17th at 'Dega, he's still only 14 points back and more than capable of winning yet another championship. Brad Keselowski managed a seventh in the melee at 'Dega and is the guy everyone is chasing. All he does is win and finish high in the results, so it will be difficult for anyone other than Hamlin and Johnson to catch him.
AD, if I was a betting man - and I'm not - the top three drivers are fighting for the title during these last six events.
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.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation