NASCAR Chase: The Unexpected Lives Up to Pre-Chase Hype

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent ISeptember 19, 2010

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 19:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Small Business Toyota spins out behind Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Johns Manville Chevrolet during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The NASCAR Chase has been hyped by drivers, owners and the media and surprise, surprise, it seems they are right on target for this Chase.

So often the talking heads on television hype a race that all but puts us to sleep.  The Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was lively from lap one with dramatic happenings that may just change the way everyone expected this year's Chase to play out.

Expectations of Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson being the stars of the show litterally took a turn for the worse.

Carl Edwards failed to hold his line and slid into Hamlin causing him to spin on lap 214.  Hamlin dropped from third to 23rd saying over the radio, "Can't hold his line, can he?"  A less confident Hamlin would have been irate with Edwards.

Jimmie Johnson ran like a bandit coming through the field from the start of the race, often being the centerpiece of a three wide grouping.

Johnson took a hit in the point standings when an apparent loose wheel caused him to finish the race 25th and drop from second to seventh in the point standings.

Tony Stewart proved he is a strong contender as he led the other 42 cars for a considerable time during the race.  In fact he crossed the finish line just ahead of Clint Bowyer, but Bowyer was lighting up his tires in victory having already taken the checkered flag when Stewart ran out of gas.

Bowyer, the guy we wondered if he could hang in the top 12 for the Chase, moved up to second in points proving the RCR team is the real deal.

Drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth will more than likely be also-rans despite their will to bring Jack Roush a Championship title.

As the race began, Chad Knaus calmly encouraged his driver, Johnson, to just cruise toward the front.  After the race, his smile long gone, said, "Got a lot more exciting than what I had anticipated."

Johnson may not be knocked out of the chance to grab a fifth consecutive title, but history shows his 25th place finish will make the battle much tougher.

And for those who wrote off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the season, low and behold he finished the best of the Hendrick drivers in fourth place.

Tony Stewart was thought to be the chosen one to take out Johnson as NASCAR's Champion, should Denny Hamlin fail to do so.

Now Stewart languishes back in 11th place in the points while Hamlin remains in the lead.

There are still nine races, but it appears the gloves are off and this Chase will be full of surprises and drama.

Kevin Harvick's star has dimmed, as teammate Clint Bowyer became the hot ticket for Richard Childress Racing.

Jeff Gordon moved up three places to fifth in the points and he just may be the Hendrick driver that seriously contends for the Championship.

Denny Hamlin seems to be on a mission to dethrone Johnson.  He looks to be in good form to grab the series title this year.

There are lots of drivers out of the Chase who have nothing to lose.  They may be the ones that shakeup the Chase with aggressive driving that is sure to be part of the remaining races.

If the Sylvania 300 at NHMS was a sample of how the Chase will play out, then the fans are in for some great racing that lives up to the hype.