NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Non-Chasers Who Could Challenge For The Title In 2011

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2010

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Non-Chasers Who Could Challenge For The Title In 2011

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    LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 17:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, drives on track during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 17, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by
    Elsa/Getty Images

    NASCAR's playoff system, known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup, has been hyped for the excitement it is supposed to create as the season's top drivers vie for the Championship.

    Many feel the implementation of of the Chase format is an exercise that only serves to penalize the driver who has proven to be the best for the first 26 races of the season.

    The excitement level this playoff system was designed for has been diminished by the four consecutive Championships won by Jimmie Johnson.

    Johnson and his team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, have mastered the ability to charge through the last 10 races, overcome any stumbles they have along the way, and grab the title.

    Brian France, the head guy at NASCAR, has more than implied there will be changes to the Chase format in 2011.  To date there has only been a slight shuffling of tracks that failed to include a road course or even Pocono.

    It is rumored the number of drivers may be increased from 12 to 15 with other undisclosed twists to add drama to the Chase.  In 2007, the number of drivers in the Chase was changed from 10 to 12 and we still wonder just what that has accomplished.

    Each year there are the usual suspects that are expected to be well within the top 10 in the point standings.

    The only drama, should you classify it as such, is the shifts in and out of positions 11 through 14 as the season heads to the final 10 races for the title.  The drivers just out of the top-12 battle valiantly to move into the Chase field, while the guys just barely in struggle to stay there.

    Expectations are placed on certain drivers early in the season.  They are expected to carry on their winning ways from the last season or turn their season around from failures they may have encountered the prior year.

    Being a non-Chase driver does have it's advantages.  Once a driver and his team know they have no way of being in the top-12, they are free to experiment with their equipment which may give them an advantage the next season.  They are also out to race for the win more aggressively because they really have nothing to lose.

    In no particular order, let's take a look at 10 drivers who were expected to make the Chase this year and did not as well as drivers who have the potential to find success in the upcoming 2011 season.

A.J. Allmendinger

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    WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 07:  A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #43 Insignia HDTV Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2010 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (P
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    As drivers flee Richard Petty Motorsports,  A.J. Allmendinger gets his alpha mojo working and has shown improvement in performance.  With his teammates Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard moving on to new gigs, he only has Marcos Ambrose, thus far, to deal with next season at RPM. 

    Allmendinger is feeling pretty feisty and should he continue to get strong rides, he will be on the move next year with images of taking his No. 43 Ford to the Chase.

Kasey Kahne

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 01:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Ford, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 on October 1, 2010 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASC
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Lame duck drivers usually fail to do well during the season, so here we have Kasey Kahne as a lame duck driver at Richard Petty Motorsports, and next year he will be the same while he serves his one year sentence at Red Bull Racing before joining Hendrick Motorsports.

    The reasoning for giving him a chance at making the Chase next year is the fact that he will be the lead driver at Red Bull and rest assured they will do everything possible to give him great equipment.  There is little doubt Kahne has the talent to grab some wins and top finishes in 2011.

    The crew chief factor may play into his performance next year.  Kahne likes working with Kenny Francis, but where will Francis be?  Should he have a new CC?  Will it hurt or help? 

Ryan Newman

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 01: Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet waits on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 on October 1, 2010 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for N
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Ryan Newman missed the Chase by one position in the point standings this year.  He had more than his share of accidents and an engine failure that ruined his chances to be in the top-12.

    The Stewart-Haas driver has the talent and equipment to perform well next season, so as long as he can stay out of trouble there is no doubt he will be one of the drivers in the Chase next year.

Paul Menard

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    MONTREAL - AUGUST 28: Paul Menard of the United States, driver of the #98 Colonial Elegance/Menards Ford, looks at notes in the garage area prior to practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on August 28, 2
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Paul Menard is just waiting for his stint at Richard Petty Motorsports to be over.  He will be taking his dad's money over to Richard Childress Racing next year. As the season winds down, he has given us indications that he may well be a contender next year.

    Menard needs to find a home, because he wants to race and has talent as a driver.  He has found himself moving around to different teams and hopefully his contract with RCR will give him the stability and quality equipment he needs.

    RCR claims their attempt with four teams will be a success this time because of the changes they have made.  Obviously, the changes worked well for the three teams this year.

    If Menard is destined to breakout as a top driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, next year will be his chance to prove what he can do and just maybe make the Chase.

Jamie McMurray

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    LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 17:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald's Chevrolet stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 17, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Coming out of the gate at the Daytona 500 this year, McMurray grabbed a win and followed up with a win at the Brickyard.

    His reunion with Chip Ganassi and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has been pleasing to all parties concerned, and McMurray has had some strong runs with 10 top-10 finishes.  He didn't miss the Chase by much this year and there is a good chance he will be in it next year.

Joey Logano

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 01:  Joey Logano, driver of the #20 Home Depot Toyota, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 on October 1, 2010 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    The driver of the Home Depot No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing is gaining traction as a driver in NASCAR's top tier.  He is maturing and showing that just because he is young, doesn't mean he'll be pushed around.

    Though he is ranked 20th in points and finished 20th last year in the standings, he has great equipment, Kyle Busch as a teammate, and the potential to win races. 

    Logano can be a bit aggressive with his driving, but has proved his talent in the Nationwide series and will more than likely be finishing in or near the Chase next year if he can get some consistency going.

Juan Pablo Montoya

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    RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 11, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Rusty Ja
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Montoya, the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has 13 top-10 finishes this season and a win at Watkins Glen. 

    He would have probably made the Chase had he not been caught up in so many accidents and a couple engine problems. 

    If he can close the deal, Montoya has the talent and equipment to make the Chase next year.

Mark Martin

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    LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 19:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, looks on prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jerry Mark
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Martin is one who had lots of expectations placed on him after his 2009 season when he finished second to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson.

    Low and behold the driver of the GoDaddy.com Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports has found himself amidst a mediocre season.  He can blame the media for distractions about where he would drive next year with the Kasey Kahne adventure, but the truth is his team has been playing catch-up this season.

    For whatever reason, Martin just was not the contender he was expected to be, and it has not only surprised fans, but Martin himself. 

    It appears his team is getting it together a bit more which holds promise for next season.  Martin will be a lame duck driver at Hendrick with Kasey Kahne taking over his ride in 2012.

    If the 51-year-old driver can stay relaxed and have fun like he did in 2009, there is a good chance he will be in the 2011 Chase as long as his team gives him a strong car.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2010 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Chr
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Oh boy, I can hear the screams now from the people who feel Dale Jr. has given up and has no talent.

    The facts are he does want to win and has the talent, but his team has basically performed like buffoons having tried anything and everything including making a good car worse and a bad car worse yet more often than not.  Their failure to qualify well has not helped either.

    The crew chief, Lance McGrew,  for the Amp Energy/National Guard No. 88 Chevy will have another year's worth of notes to work off of and hopefully learn from.  Earnhardt Jr. needs to perform in 2011 if he is to perform there at all because Kasey Kahne will be the focus of attention in 2012 which just may be Junior's last year at Hendrick.

    The driver of the No. 88 has had a few glimpses of promise this year and he is currently ranked 17th in the point standings.  If the stars align, Dale Jr. may surprise the doubters and finally get back in the Chase.

Martin Truex

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    LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 17:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, waits in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 17, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.
    Tom Whitmore/Getty Images

    Truex, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, will more than likely emerge as the strongest driver out of that organization.

    He can run well, but lacks consistency and needs to learn some road course skills. Truex has a strong crew chief in Pat Tryson and he has shown his talent with two Busch (Nationwide) series titles.

    Of the 10 drivers in this group of non-Chasers, he may be least likely to make the Chase, but he is serious about driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and with reliable equipment he just may start to finish well and become the star at MWR.

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