News & Media

Keselowski topic of debate as race for the Chase heats up

July 05, 2012, ,

Topics: the 'Blue Deuce,' wild-ward friendly Daytona and Dillon's domination

1. Brad Keselowski scored his series-leading third win of the season Saturday at Kentucky. But does that mean he's the favorite to be the No. 1 seed in the Chase?

David Caraviello: No -- at least not yet. I mean, he's the leader in the clubhouse certainly -- and he has as good a shot as anyone right now -- but with three drivers still out there with two wins each, and nine weeks still to go, and Brad's relatively low points standing for the moment among Chase contenders ... there's room there for Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, or Denny Hamlin to get by him.

Bill Kimm: He is definitely in the conversation, but I'm thinking five wins or more is going to be the top seed in the Chase, and I just don't see Big Brad getting that many in the next nine weeks. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are the drivers with two victories and I see them being able to grab multiple wins this summer.

Mark Aumann: You would think so. But sitting 10th in the points -- although with a 34-point advantage over 11th-place Carl Edwards -- Brad could very well be in the same boat he was in last year, where he'll have to use the wild card to get in (and then lose the bonus). And five wins? Somebody's going to win three, four or five of the next 10 races on the schedule? Not saying that's improbable, but we haven't seen anyone take command yet in 2012. But I like Bill's assertiveness!

Bill Kimm: I don't like disagreeing with my good friend Mark Aumann so early, but I think BK will be top 10 ... no one behind him is showing enough prowess to crack the top 10. And if anyone does fall out, I just don't see it being BK.

Mark Aumann: Wow, mutual admiration already. It must be the heat.

David Caraviello: Whoa, Bill Kimm: returns to Track Smack and brings it right off the bat. Five wins? That means somebody is going to win maybe three more times in the last nine weeks of the regular season? I can't wait to see that kind of run!

Bill Kimm: We are running out of drivers who can score victories -- so yes, somebody will win two or three times in the next nine weeks. Mark it down!

Mark Aumann: But what if it's someone like Mark Martin? He's been so close so often. And being outside of the top 20, that would take away win possibilities for the guys who really need it. Plus, I keep thinking Jeff Gordon's the type of driver who could string together two or three in a row here. With three wins, Brad is definitely locked in. But it's not a given he's going to be leading the points after Richmond. And the guys sitting 11th-20th would rather him stay in the top 10, to be honest.

Catch me if you can

Brad Keselowski's three Cup wins (and a "Tebow") put him atop the victory column heading into Daytona's midsummer weekend. Check them out.

David Caraviello: I mean, usually it's Joe Menzer handing out victories like they're candy on Halloween night. Five wins is going to be tough. I can see four, especially with Brad having three already and Bristol still sitting out there. But if you look at Chase history, the top contenders tend to get more conservative as the playoff nears, trying to solidify their spots. We're quickly reaching the point where top teams are preparing for Chicagoland and beyond. Five is going to be a tough number to get to, especially given so many guys are currently sitting on just two.

Bill Kimm: Mark Martin? I think the heat has gotten to Mr. Aumann. Martin hasn't won a race since 2009 and now you think he is going to peel off multiple wins? You are nuts!

Mark Aumann: Hey, we're all being wildly optimistic this week. What a welcome change.

Bill Kimm: I know ... a positive Track Smack. You don't see that very often. That being said ... BK is in the Chase, I think we all agree with that. He could be tied for the top seed, but I don't see him owning it outright.

Mark Aumann: And when did Joe ever hand out candy? Last I heard, he bought it -- and then turned out the lights so kids would think no one was home, allowing him to keep it all for himself.

David Caraviello: Now I will agree with Bill "Five-Win" Kimm that Keselowski will likely be in the top 10 when the Chase starts this year. He's only in 10th at the moment, but he has a sizeable lead over 11th, and everyone below him is pretty much playing for a wild card right now. But he's got a lot of strong drivers ahead of him, and I don't know how much forward momentum he's going to be able to generate, and it may be his points standing that ultimately keeps him out of that No. 1 seed. I'd feel better if he were a tad higher in the standings.

Mark Aumann: Nice. Jimmie Johnson is Five-Time. Bill Kimm: is Five-Win. High fives all around.

David Caraviello: And hey, that No. 55 car has been good almost every week. I wouldn't rule out Mark getting to Victory Lane a time or two, but I don't know that anyone is getting to five. I think you may see a few more unlikely winners before the summer is out. A Joey Logano sweep at Pocono, anyone? Why not, as good as that car was last time out there.

Bill Kimm: Come on y'all ... Matt Kenseth has to be a favorite at Daytona, with Pocono, Michigan and Atlanta coming up ... no reason he can't win three of those. I'd even put Biffle in that mix as well. It's not as far-fetched as you think

David Caraviello: Mark, when is the last time one driver swept both Daytona races in a season?

Mark Aumann: Looks like Bobby Allison, 1982.

David Caraviello: Thank you.

Mark Aumann: Going back to Bill's premise, Hamlin could get to five with Pocono and Richmond on the schedule. Johnson could get to five with some of his better tracks left.

Bill Kimm: Like I said, it's very possible. Back to Big Brad ... six wins the past two seasons, trailing only Tony Stewart with seven. Who had that in the office pool? To put that in perspective, Kes has as many wins the past two seasons as Richard Childress Racing! All I can say is wow.

Mark Aumann: And perhaps the new master at winning on fuel mileage. Impressive.

David Caraviello: Now, given his history in the event, could Tony Stewart be standing in Victory Lane on Saturday night in Daytona? Certainly. He does that, he ties Brad for wins and because of his points standing jumps to the head of the line for No. 1 seed. But three is still a long way from five. Although in Brad's case, Michigan is yet to come ... and Bristol ... OK, maybe I am suddenly warming to Five-Win's theory.

Bill Kimm: Come to the optimistic side, David. It's nice and comfy over here. All rainbows and unicorns.

2. It's back to Daytona for the summertime 400-miler. Of the tracks remaining before the Chase, does the unpredictable restrictor-plate venue offer the best chance for someone to vault into wild-card contention?

Sprint Cup Standings

Drivers ranked 11-20
12.Ky. Busch-138
13.P. Menard-156
14.K. Kahne-170
15.R. Newman-170
16.J. Logano-170
17.M. Ambrose-177
18.J. Gordon-180
19.J. McMurray-202
20.J. Burton-205

Bill Kimm: Daytona is always a wild card -- David Ragan won this thing last year. But for me, I think Watkins Glen will be more of a wild-card factor than Daytona. With the rule changes, I just don't think we will have a surprise winner Saturday night.

David Caraviello: I'm answering that one with a big, fat maybe. OK, no doubting that we have tracks coming up this weekend and later this summer that could produce unlikely winners. But as we saw last year, those unlikely winners aren't always capable of getting into the Chase. There are some capable race-winners buried far down enough in the standings that one victory might not be enough for them.

Mark Aumann: If I'm Paul Menard, this -- and Indy -- might be the tracks I've circled on the schedule. Menard's average finish over the past six Daytona races is 12.8, right behind Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. And Edwards could sure use a win, too.

Bill Kimm: Where do you stand on one win getting a Chase berth? I have to think it might take at least two to get in. Of course, if it takes two than Brad could be the top seed after all. Only nine races left, and I'm handing out victories all over the place.

Mark Aumann: I'm going to agree with my esteemed colleague, B. Kimm, Esq., on this one. According to Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, it takes two, baby.

David Caraviello: Bill, Ragan may have won last season, but you look at the list of recent winners in this summer Daytona event -- it's a lot of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch and the like. Maybe it's because the race is shorter, but it seems like the traditional powers are more in control in this one. That might be my imagination, and yes I do remember Greg Biffle's first win on fuel mileage, but for whatever reason it feels a touch more predictable -- not that that's a bad thing, given how much fans love to see big names win.

Mark Aumann: David, I think the track is a lot slicker and trickier in July than it is in February. That might be one reason the cream rises to the top there for the 400.

David Caraviello: Kyle Busch won this event in 2008. It's completely believable that he could win Saturday night and get that second win that would go a long way toward solidifying his wild-card hopes.

Bill Kimm: It's funny -- we are nine races away from the Chase and there isn't one driver I would say is a favorite for the title. This is the most wide-open season I've seen in quite some time.

Mark Aumann: And yet, every week, the most recent winner gets anointed as the "favorite." Go figure.

David Caraviello: But other than Kyle and Kasey Kahne, is there any wild-card contender that really strikes you as being able to win multiple times between now and Richmond? Logano has two wins for his career, though I wouldn't rule out another one. Jeff Gordon has run well all year but still has a goose egg. Carl Edwards seems to be going in the wrong direction. Ryan Newman has slipped off the radar. Marcos Ambrose will be a favorite at Watkins Glen, but nowhere else. Seriously, who in that group is capable of ripping off two wins over the next nine weeks, given what they've done in the first 17?

Bill Kimm: Aren't Kyle and Kasey enough? That's what I'm saying ... I could easily see both winning again and that means it's going to take two wins to get a wild card. So a surprise Daytona winner or Ambrose taking the Glen isn't going to muck up the postseason.

David Caraviello: Exactly, Bill. We're getting to the point where some of these guys have to take the next step up, and I don't know how many of them are capable of doing it. We saw a similar situation last year, where the wild-card contenders were falling all over each other, except for Keselowski. As Mark and I have discussed before -- this deep in the season, you're where you are for a reason, and it's very hard to just flip a switch and improve performance. All of which made Tony's run last year that much more amazing.

Mark Aumann: And makes Tony's struggles that much more puzzling. The wild card looks wide-open right now, but I'm not so certain that's the case. The more I stare at it, the more I see this coming down to a battle between Busch, Kahne and perhaps Edwards with a win.

David Caraviello: Mark, I'll give you that. That doesn't mean it's not going to be interesting, or exciting, or we won't have some surprise winners along the way. But we're talking about guys capable of running for a championship, and within that group of wild-card contenders, that's a very small circle indeed.

Bill Kimm: Logano could be a serious factor the next two months. I would not be surprised to see him win again ... which puts a little more pressure on Busch and Kahne to get that second victory. And Edwards is going the wrong way at the wrong time ... didn't see that coming after last year.

David Caraviello: And with two wins, I guess Stewart can afford to be puzzling, at least for a little while. And yes Bill, Joey might get one more, the next time we go back to Pocono. I'm not saying Gordon won't win. But it seems at least one wild-card contender is going to have to get to two, and I don't know how many of them are really capable of that -- even given the unpredictable nature of some of the tracks coming up. Even Mr. Five-Win would have to agree with me there.

Bill Kimm: Unpredictable means surprises are more likely.

David Caraviello: Right, but those surprises won't necessarily have an impact on the Chase. What if Regan Smith wins at Daytona? Juan Montoya at Watkins Glen? Jamie McMurray at Indianapolis? Great stuff, and very possible, but zero effect on the championship battle.

Bill Kimm: The best news in all of this -- you can use NASCAR.COM's Chase Predictor to answer these difficult questions (yes, a total shameless plug). By the way, Chase Predictor has Kyle and Carl as the two wild cards -- Kyle at 82 percent, Carl at a scant 53 percent.

Mark Aumann: The best surprise would be not having the air conditioner running 24 hours a day.

David Caraviello: Might have to wait until September for that one, my friend. Just like the Chase!

3. Austin Dillon dominated the Nationwide event at Kentucky, and took the points lead before giving it back on a penalty. Is he the new top contender in that series?

Keep Austin Winning

Austin Dillon was the man of the hour, winning his first Nationwide race in the No. 3.

David Caraviello: OK, let me just say -- I don't know if we've seen a race in Kentucky that lopsided since the days of Secretariat. Holy mackerel, that No. 3 car was on a rail. There was something mesmerizing about watching Austin lap one car, then another -- you had to wonder in the back of your mind, just a little bit, whether he could lap the entire field. Impressive performance, but it was only one night, and I don't know if it raises him to the level of championship favorite in the Nationwide Series.

Bill Kimm: The six-point deduction will hurt, but yes, he is quickly becoming the Nationwide Series favorite for the title. He's the only driver to complete every lap this season, and he seems to be getting better as the season goes on. Scary stuff for Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr.

Mark Aumann: Boy, oh boy. We're one Sam Hornish Jr. win away from this being a four-horse race. Wasn't it a month ago we were all but crowning Ricky Stenhouse Jr. again? Dillon's been right there all season and finally broke through -- although the post-race inspection issues put a damper on things.

Bill Kimm: You guys, Dillon has been there every, single week. Let's not act like Kentucky was a fluke. That No. 3 has top-fives in more than 50 percent of the races this year. His 11 top-10s leads the series. Dillon has been there each race, and now that he has that first win, the floodgates could open.

Mark Aumann: To win the championship, you're going to have to do something to separate yourself from the logjam. In this case, it's not only putting together a run of consistent finishes, but perhaps a stretch of wins. And Dillon definitely threw down the gauntlet Friday. But I still think Stenhouse and Sadler aren't going to go away.

David Caraviello: The big question is, can Stenhouse win this championship by making up a deficit? He's 21 points back now, which is fairly substantial under this system. I still think the No.6 has the best combination of driver and team in this thing, and I still think he's going to be a contender in all this, but suddenly he's in the unfamiliar position of having to make up ground. And Five-Win, nobody's saying Austin is a fluke. He's been the real deal since day one. But I also don't know if one night in Kentucky is going to be indicative of the rest of the season. He is still a rookie, after all.

Mark Aumann: Five races ago, Dillon was 28 points behind Stenhouse. I think there's more than enough time to play catch-up. But you definitely can't afford to fall further behind.

Bill Kimm: Oh, it should be a great three-horse race to Homestead. But only three Nationwide-only drivers have won races, and they are the top three in points. It's a matter of surviving and Dillon is the only driver to run every lap. You can look at that two ways ... he's due for calamity or he's on fire and nothing can stop him.

David Caraviello: I will say this, anyone grumbling about how Austin got a ride because Richard Childress is his grandfather needs to put a sock in it. Kid is a hell of a driver, regardless of who he's related do, and he's more than justified his opportunity. Oh, and get used to that No. 3 car, too. I'm starting to feel like he might be in it for a while. He's even making it his own, to a certain degree.

Mark Aumann: Joey Logano has five Nationwide wins. Maybe that's what Bill's been referring to!

Bill Kimm: I don't think anyone should be criticized for how they got their ride. They got it ... deal with it. That being said, Dillon has more than proven himself and I agree David, the nay-sayers need to go away. You can't question his skills behind the wheel.

Mark Aumann: Thirded.

Bill Kimm: And Mark, I was referring to my stellar 5-for-5 record in Track Smack this year! And this week makes it six victories in a row for me!

David Caraviello: I will say this, Austin is coming on strong at the right time. Two poles in his last three events. Four top-fives in his last seven races. Maybe he's not quite as dominant as that Kentucky race made him out to be, but he's definitely picked the right time of the season to make a surge.

Mark Aumann: You crushed it, BK.. But here's the deal: Stenhouse has been rock solid on the intermediates. Wins at Vegas, Texas and then at Iowa, which is like a mini-intermediate. The championship still goes through him, in my estimation.

Bill Kimm: It's Dillon's to lose ... and it won't be to Stenhouse. A Childress car will be the Nationwide champion.

David Caraviello: Ricky had a bad month, but he's still Ricky Stenhouse, and remember how he pulled away from everyone over the second half of last season. But we're headed next to Daytona, where the defending pole winner is ... Danica Patrick! Where is Jill Erwin to guarantee another victory? It all makes those predictions from Five-Win seem so pedestrian by comparison.

Mark Aumann: Don't forget -- in Florida, pedestrians have the right of way.