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Head2Head: Menard or Allmendinger -- who will make Chase?

March 14, 2011, ,

Three races in and there are some surprising names outside the top 10 in points: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton.

For all the surprises outside the top 10, that means there are some surprises in the top 10 as well, specifically A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard. The best points finish for either driver is 19th, yet they are currently sixth (Menard) and ninth (Allmendinger) with impressive races to start the season. But the question is, which one of the two will be able to maintain their current pace and make the Chase?

Allmendinger or Menard, who has the best chance to make the Chase?


When drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick are on the outside of the top 10 looking in after three races, it's easy to expect major shakeups in the standings over the next few weeks. But based on several factors, A.J. Allmendinger has a better chance of sticking around by the start of the Chase.

He's always been a bit of a factor at restrictor-plate tracks -- he finished third in the 2009 Daytona 500 -- but Allmendinger's starting to show more consistency at places like Phoenix (where he sat on the front row twice last year), Dover and Richmond. And where the Chase is made, won and lost -- on the intermediate tracks -- Allmendinger has shown major improvement. He finished 10th at Kansas and was competitive at Charlotte, Texas and Homestead.

The former open-wheel star has made slow but steady gains since his introduction to the hardtops. He's gone from 36th in the standings in 2008, to 24th in 2009 and up to 19th last year. Not only that but he finished 2010 strong, scoring four top-10s in the final 11 races for a team in disarray, one barely surviving on a week-to-week basis. To end the season like that on a positive note was a huge boost of confidence for both Allmendinger and his crew.

And that dovetails nicely with the recent introduction of the next generation Ford engine, which has now won four of the past five races. So with solid financial backing and top-of-the-line equipment, 2011 could very well be Allmendinger's break-out year.

Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

I've been saying it since January and will continue to do so -- 2011 is Paul Menard's coming out party in the Sprint Cup Series.

Menard has been the victim of bad timing throughout his Cup career, but that finally changes this season with Menard moving to Richard Childress Racing a year after the team put all three of its drivers in the Chase.

Finally, Menard gets the owner, the equipment and the team needed to show what he can do. And so far, he has. Menard ran a great race in Daytona and brought it home ninth; backed that up with a car in the top 10 at Phoenix for most of the afternoon, eventually finishing 17th; and last week at Las Vegas, another strong performance with a 12th-place run.

Yes, his start this season mirrors last year, when he was in the top 10 until Race 7 and then started his plummet from the top of the standings. But he was also with a Richard Petty Motorsports team on the verge of destruction. That collapse won't happen again.

Menard has the best equipment he's ever driven in, has teammates he can lean on and learn from, has an owner that is a proven winner, but more importantly, Menard has confidence.

The pieces are all in place for the 30-year-old veteran, he just has to take advantage. And I believe he will. Menard has had brief glimpses of success, but has never been consistent. This year, he will remain consistent and no one should be surprised to see the No. 27 in the Chase come Chicagoland.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Bill Kimm and Mark Aumann have vastly different thoughts on that question. Read their arguments and weigh in with yours in the comments below. And don't forget to vote for whose argument you agree with more in the poll at the right.