Tony Stewart is already offering up his thoughts on the 2011 Chase. After weeks of saying his team wasn’t performing like they belonged in the Chase the driver offered up a few other names he doesn’t think will take the championship. The names of Dale Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin or Kurt Busch rolled off his lips. That’s quite a statement but is it true?
Dale Earnhardt Jr somehow made the Chase after being uncompetitive for most of the second half of the season. In his last 12 races Earnhardt recorded one top-10 and led a whopping 8 laps.
While Kurt Busch may or may not be in Jimmie Johnson’s head it’s clear that his feud with the five time champion is taking away from his focus. Bursch went after two different reporters following Saurday nights race at Richmond and had it not been for a huge cushion and some struggling drivers behind him could have slid out of the Chase altogether.
The #17 Ford of Matt Kenseth won at Texas and Dover and had been running well in recent weeks. Still Kenseth doesn’t win enough to convince even his diehard fans that he’s a legit title contender. Kenseth did much the same this year, started out strong, had a mini slump and a late surge. If his recent Chase stats hold true Kenseth will fall out of the hunt rather quickly.
Last year Denny Hamlin finished second to Jimmie Johnson. This year he looks lost. Hamlin won the first race at Michigan but couldn’t even be competitive at Richmond, a track he has dominated. Of the bunch Hamlin probably is the best bet to win the title but right now he’s certainly second fiddle even at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Could Tony Stewart win? Sure but don’t count on it. Stewart is already counting himself out and that is a bad mixture for a guy who has often been known as a hot head. Stewart lost his focus as the regular season winded down and coming back from a defeated attitude will not be easy. Further Stewart only had a couple of runs where he actually looked like he had a car that could compete for a win.
I’ll even go a step further. If Tony Stewart can’t win the championship then Ryan Newman might as well not show up. Newman won the race at Loudon this year but much the same traits of Stewart fall back on him. Same team, same cars, not competitive enough.
With 12 points separating 12 drivers it’s too early to rule anyone out. It will only take a trip to Chicagoland to change that.