Chaser or Racer: NASCAR's Race to the Chase (Daytona)

Kyle LavigneAnalyst IJuly 3, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Ryan Newman, driver of the #12 Alltel Dodge, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2008 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Like last year, mother nature interfered with the Lenox Tool 301 (and it’s “extra mile,” even though we haven’t that race go the full distance since they lengthened). Unlike last year, though, no one was really “bitten” by the rain and suffered poor results because of strategy.

The guys who ran up front throughout the race finished up there for the most part. Of course, Joey Logano grabbed win using strategy, while David Reutimann took fourth, and Brad Keselowski sixth because of mother nature’s intervention.

But, the rain itself didn’t really hurt a lot of the guys in the running for the Chase. What hurt those guys was poor runs or crashes (especially for those who trapped in Loudon’s version of “The Big One”).

What’s more, those who ran poorly at Loudon have the wildcard of Daytona International Speedway in front of them this weekend…and we all know what a restrictor plate race and do (just ask Carl Edwards).


10th place Matt Kenseth

Kenseth’s struggles continued last week, as he could do no better than 22nd. Surely, Kenseth and the No. 17 team will have to do better than that in this stretch run to the Chase. He’s only 17 points ahead of Reutimann…who’s in 14th. He could easily fall to 15th or worse this week, if things don’t go in his favor.

Now, you may be thinking “But, he won at Daytona in February. Shouldn’t that make him a favorite this weekend?” You’d be correct to think that he should at least be in the front running group, but restrictor plate racing has never been a Roush strong point.

Jack Roush even admitted that he wasn’t sure if he’d even win the Daytona 500, because of their plate racing package. Given that Kenseth hasn’t met the success he had in the first two races, problems this weekend could spell “doom” for his chances of making the Chase.

If he can get through this weekend, he’ll have dodged a bullet…but would still have to run better. Finishes in the 20s aren’t going to be helpful Richmond gets closer.


11th place Mark Martin

The “Old Man” seems to be stuck on the edge of making the Chase right now. He finished 14th last week, which isn’t a bad run, but didn’t do much to help get in a safe spot in the standings.

He’s only a handful of points to the good, and any more bad luck could knock him out. He has certainly run well enough to rank in the top five, but this early season bad luck has him just outside the to ten.

Again, I don’t doubt that they’ll make it in, but they’re teetering on the edge right now. A few good runs in the top five will help out, but not making mistakes will help just as much.

I have faith that the team can do both, but hanging on as they are certainly has me a little nervous about them for the time being.


12th place Juan Pablo Montoya

One point is the difference between him and Kasey Kahne; you think this Chase battle is going to come down to the last lap at Richmond? I certainly do.

Montoya has Chip Ganassi in the best spot to make the Chase he has even been in. But, even with that, there isn’t room for error with this team. Their consistency has done them very well to this point, but will have to remain in play.

Miscues and/or lapses in performance simply can’t be had for this bunch right now. The gap from Montoya to Kahne (or back to Reutimann for that matter) is too close at the moment.


13th place Kasey Kahne

He can just about taste it. Kahne will overtake Montoya (or Martin, or Kenseth even) with a nice run in the top five or top ten at Daytona. He’ll only need to beat Montoya by one spot to do, and only another two or three (depending on positions) to overtake Martin and Kenseth.

What’s more, the team’s strong point seems to be the intermediate and big ovals…which make up much of the run to Richmond. If Kahne can make it through Daytona unscathed (or even with a finish near the front), he’ll be poised to make a true run at the Chase…and a possible run at a championship.


14th place David Reutimann

“The Franchise” is well within range of Michael Waltrip a Chase berth. A fourth in New Hampshire has him 12 points behind Montoya, and that much is because of his poor showing at Infineon.

Reutimann has greatly improved his game since 2007, and the team is now capable of putting winning cars on the track. All things point to this combo cracking the top 12…for good. If he and the team can survive the next road course (Watkins Glen), they could be in great shape come Richmond.


15th place Clint Bowyer

The only Richard Childress car to miss that big wreck, Bowyer appeared like he might be able to get a good finish. Unfortunately, 20th was the best he could do.

His chances of making this year’s Chase seem to be slipping away with every passing race; they just don’t seem to have what they need to do so this year. I don’t see them picking up in the coming weeks, and something tells me they’ll be left on the outside after Richmond (or maybe even before then).


16th Jeff Burton

Nothing is ever over until it’s over, but Burton’s Chase chances may have been put out to pasture last week. That wreck has him more than 100 points of Montoya; while that much ground be made up, Burton hasn’t been running well enough to do so.

Is it possible that he can make up what he lost? Yes, but only if a big gain in performance is seen. I don’t indications of the RCR bunch getting that much better. I don’t have a good feeling about Burton.