NASCAR Sprint Cup: How Each of the 12 Chase Drivers Can Win the Title

David DeNennoContributor IIISeptember 13, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Cup: How Each of the 12 Chase Drivers Can Win the Title

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    The 12-man jury has been approved.  A verdict will be reached come November; there is no such thing as a hung jury when speaking of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

    All jurors are not equal, however.  There currently exists a 12-point difference among the first and last drivers even before the opening arguments commence at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, September 18.

    All 12 have a golden chance to make their presence felt.  Also, each has one solid reason why he could hoist the Sprint Cup at season's end.

    The order here is given based on the place the driver finished during the regular season.

Juror 12: Denny Hamlin

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    Denny Hamlin has been the true “Rocky Balboa” of this season. He was beaten down and got up again, even pulling a huge win at Michigan when he absolutely needed it.

    When he said, metaphorically, “Cut me Mick, cut me,” Joe Gibbs Racing switched out to Toyota Racing Development engines.

    He may just have a few punches left for the 15th round.

Juror 11: Brad Keselowski

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    A true comeback story, Brad Keselowski looked all but finished by race No. 12 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished 19th.

    But he later battled injury to win at three very different type of tracks.

    It started with a traditional oval in Kansas, continued with whatever you care to call Pocono, and climaxed with a race truly won on pit road at Bristol.

    Consistency mixed with variety is a winning formula for a Sprint Cup Championship

Juror 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    It is great to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemingly relaxed (relieved?) and smiling.  The Chase will only benefit from his affable banter on the radio if his good mood continues.

    Coming off his best season in years, and after not having been in the Chase for so long, a new, positive outlook for Dale Jr. may find him some speed he did not know was available.

    Hopefully for his fans, a more relaxed Dale Earnhardt Jr. may indeed be able to "see more air" as the Chase unfolds.

Juror 9: Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart is no stranger to the Chase and has already won two championships.  He knows how to win—he just has to translate that to this season.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that he owns two cars in the Chase this year: he has double the chance to be a winner as a driver/owner, or just an owner with Ryan Newman. 

    Knowing Smoke, he prefers the former

Juror 8: Ryan Newman

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    Ryan Newman is the only driver to win a pole and the race simultaneously this season.  A repeat of this could put him in the running for the Sprint Cup towards its conclusion.

    Conveniently for him, the track where he accomplished this is part of the Chase itinerary: New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.

Juror 7: Kurt Busch

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    It is highly doubtful that the two drivers pictured here are exchanging pleasantries.

    The feuding that Kurt Busch (in yellow) and Jimmie Johnson engaged in during the season probably makes Kurt Busch the most envious, angry driver of the 12.  No one wants to dethrone Jimmie Johnson more right now than him.

    He has the biggest bone to pick.  This could either be a great source of strength or become a glaring weakness.

Juror 6: Jimmie Johnson

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    Five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is holding one big bottle of champagne.  At this point, he would probably prefer some beer.

    Jimmie Johnson is thirsting for a six-pack. His thirst cannot be quenched until November. 

    You never leave the table when you are on a “heater.”  This is especially true when it is your own record that you are trying to break.

Juror 5: Carl Edwards

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    This is the only flip Carl Edwards had the honor to perform off of his No. 99 Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup Series during 2011.

    If Carl Edwards can “bookend” his season—that is, perform in his last 12 races just as he did in the first 12—he has a viable shot for his first championship.  He won the last two races of the 2010 Chase.

Juror 4: Matt Kenseth

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    Both of Matt Kenseth's wins this year were at Chase tracks. 

    If he could duplicate his efforts at the Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware, and at Texas Motor Speedway he will be more than a contender—he could be a second-time champion (he won the final Winston Cup in 2003).

    Adding these wins to 9 or 10 other solid races in the Chase could make him unbeatable.

Juror 3: Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon has looked so strong down the stretch, there would be little surprise if he ties Jimmie Johnson Johnson for his fifth title.

    Sometimes a championship hinges on getting hot at the right time. That time could be now for Mr. Gordon.

Juror 2: Kevin Harvick

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    He is known as "The Closer." 

    Closers shut the door at the end of a game, match, race, etc.  If Kevin Harvick can live up to his nickname, he will win his first Sprint Cup trophy.

Juror 1: Kyle Busch

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    He cannot be called as the "lead" juror because, technically, he is tied in points with Kevin Harvick.

    However, he ended up tied for most wins during the regular season and finished first outright in points.  It is very difficult to think of a cogent reason why he cannot win.