Chase Driver previews: Looking for an edge
September 07, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Chase History: The 2003 Cup champ has finished among the top seven in the championship standings for the past four seasons. He answered his title-winning year in 2003 with a championship runner-up in 2006. He has qualified for the Chase all but one time in its 10-year existence.
Chase Outlook: By virtue of his five victories, the season’s winningest driver zooms up to the lead spot in the championship standings as the Chase begins in Chicago. Although he has the most wins, he and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch also are tied with Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. for the most DNFs among the Chase drivers as the team has struggled with engine gremlins. Kenseth won at Bristol and finished sixth at Richmond to break a recent cold spell.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet
Chase History: Johnson made history winning his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title in 2010. But "Five Time" -- as he is affectionately known -- is going through a championship dry spell by his standards, two straight seasons without a seat at NASCAR's ultimate head table. A runner-up in 2011 (to Tony Stewart) and a third place last year (to Brad Keselowski) have only stoked his competitive fire.
Chase Outlook: Johnson led the points standings for most of the season, at one point holding a points lead of nearly two full races over second place and clinching a spot in the Chase a month ago. While he's had a run of more human-like showings lately -- including four straight finishes of 28th or worse -- he is a four-time winner this year and a man on a mission. He starts the Chase ranked second because he won one race fewer than Matt Kenseth, but based on history -- recent and otherwise, he's still regarded as the championship favorite until someone proves otherwise.
Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Chase History: NASCAR's winningest driver in the three national series during the past half-decade has had a surprisingly tough time when it comes to vying for the Cup championship. He missed the Chase last year and finished last among the 12 drivers in 2011. His best championship finish of fifth came in 2007 with only a single win to his credit. He finished 10th in 2008 even with a series-best eight wins.
Chase Outlook: Arguably the hottest driver entering the Chase with two wins in the past five races, Busch is also highly motivated to be a championship player when it counts most. His four wins in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota put him near the top of the standings at the reset to start the Chase -- prime position for what many believe will be his best run yet.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Chase History: Harvick has qualified for six Chase runs and has had a pair of third-place finishes, including one of the most dramatic in Chase history when he narrowly lost to Johnson and Denny Hamlin in a title run decided in the season finale. Harvick finished eighth last year.
Chase Outlook: With a pair of wins in 2013, Harvick is starting the Chase in good shape. He narrowly missed his third top-10 in four races by finishing 11th at Richmond and nearly added to his win total at Michigan, finishing runner-up. This is Harvick’s final season driving the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and he’d love to finish out his tenure with a championship.
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Kellogg’s/Cheez-It Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Chase History: Edwards missed the Chase last year for the first time since 2009 -- a year after losing the 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship by virtue of a tiebreaker with Tony Stewart. It was Edwards' second runner-up finish, equaling his effort in 2008 when he won three Chase races and had eight top-10 finishes in the playoff run. He has wins at four of the 10 Chase tracks.
Chase Outlook: Edwards was among the top five in points all season, spending nine weeks ranked second this spring. He finally passed Johnson for most points in the regular season by winning the race at Richmond, his second victory of the year. Both Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle will have to step it up in the Chase to contend for the title.
Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford, Penske Racing
Chase History: This is the 23-year-old's first Chase appearance and comes in his first season with the Penske Racing organization. In Logano’s previous four seasons, his best run was 16th in 2010 -- the only year he didn’t score a win.
Chase Outlook: Logano’s Penske Racing teammate and reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski said he believes Logano should be considered a championship favorite based on the way he ran in the races leading into the Chase. After being ranked as low as 20th midway through the schedule, Logano raced his way back into contention. Before coming in 22nd at Richmond, Logano's No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford didn't finish lower than eighth place in a span of six races, including a win at Michigan and a runner-up at Atlanta.
Greg Biffle, No. 16 3M Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Chase History: The 2005 championship runner-up has qualified for the Chase five of the past six years with a best showing of third place (in 2008) during that run. He was fifth last year. He has 10 wins at five of the 10 Chase venues.
Chase Outlook: While Biffle does have a win (in June at Michigan) he has the fewest top-fives (three) and fewest top-10s (10) of the Chase qualified drivers. He was ranked as high as third in the championship following the April 13 race at Texas, but three finishes of 30th or worse in a four-week span in May forced The Biff to play catch-up. A consistent if unspectacular resume this summer has kept him among the Chase top-10, and he had three top-10s in the five races before coming in 12th at Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Chase History: Bowyer's championship runner-up finish to Keselowski in 2012 is his best and marked his true coming of age. He has made the Chase five of the past six years with previous impressive finishes of third (2007) and fifth (2008). Five of his eight career Cup wins have come in Chase races.
Chase Outlook: Winless entering the Chase, Bowyer took the biggest fall in points to start the 10-race playoff. His No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota has led races and many laps, but the team will need to hoist some trophies in the next two months if he’s to reign as champ.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Chase History: Although NASCAR's Most Popular Driver has qualified for the past three Chase runs, historically he hasn't contended for the title the way he or his massive fan base had hoped. Earnhardt's best championship finish of third came in 2003 before the Chase format was introduced. His best showing in the Chase was fifth, and he did it twice (in 2004 and 2006).
Chase Outlook: Earnhardt led the standings for one week -- following the Fontana, Calif., race -- but his summer has been hit-or-miss. In the past month, he has two finishes of 30th or worse in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet sandwiched by a pair of top-10s. He is one of three Chase drivers without a win.
Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
Chase History: The first champion in the Chase format, the 2004 trophy winner has qualified for the Chase three of the past four years, but watched from the sideline last year and finished 11th the previous two seasons.
Chase Outlook: Busch has embraced the "underdog" storyline this year, giving the single-car Furniture Row Racing team its first Chase berth. His 13 top-10s and eight top-fives were every bit in step with the mega-teams, and Busch is convinced he’d have visited Victory Lane a couple of times if not for pit miscues or mechanical oversights that cost him. Having announced he will drive for Stewart Haas Racing in 2014, Busch says he is motivated to finish off his tenure at FRR with a valiant title try and at least a victory in the final 10 races. He has wins at seven of the 10 Chase tracks.
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Chase History: Kahne is coming off the best championship finish of his career (fourth) and posted top-five finishes in five of the 10 races. For a driver with 16 Cup wins and five multi-win seasons, it surprises many to know Kahne had been in only three Chase fields.
Chase Outlook: After a revolving door of teams and engine makes, Kahne has settled in nicely with the powerhouse Hendrick team, and many believe he is poised to show he can be a leader in the driver lineup. Kahne has two wins, and only two drivers have more top-fives (eight). He had three top-three finishes in the last seven races, including a win at Pocono.
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Chase History: The 2008 Daytona 500 winner has qualified for the Chase two of the past seven seasons with a ninth-place finish in 2009. He finished sixth in the championship three times (2002, 2003 and 2005) while driving for Penske Racing.
Chase Outlook: Reunited with crew chief Matt Borland this season, Newman has rebounded from a rough start -- two DNFs in first three races -- to win the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis last month and get into the Chase. He had four top-five finishes in the seven races leading into the Chase and will have all the resources of SHR behind him as the team’s lone championship contender.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Chase History: The four-time Cup champ has missed only one Chase, but is yet to claim a title in the decade-old format. He has one of the most impressive championship resumes in NASCAR history, ranking among the top 10 in the standings all but twice in the last 20 years. Last season, however, he qualified for the Chase thanks only to a runner-up finish in Richmond's final race to set the field. Then, a 35th-place finish in the first Chase race at Chicago forced him into comeback mode to finish the year.
Chase Outlook: Gordon made his way into the Chase when NASCAR added an unprecedented 13th driver to the field after the Richmond scandal. His five DNFs are tied for the most among the Chase drivers this season, and he is one of four winless drivers in the field.