NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup: Hendrick Looks for Six Consecutive Titles

Chad IrvineContributor IIISeptember 19, 2011

Hendrick Motorsports Drivers (from left) No. 5 Mark Martin, No. 24 Jeff Gordon, No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr., No 48 Jimmie Johnson
Hendrick Motorsports Drivers (from left) No. 5 Mark Martin, No. 24 Jeff Gordon, No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr., No 48 Jimmie Johnson

Hendrick Motorsports has proven its dominance the past few seasons in NASCAR, and they have certainly put together an All-Star team. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are in the chase, while Mark Martin is the odd one out.

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson has dominated the Sprint Cup for years, winning five consecutive championships. He is also the only driver to qualify for the chase every season since its introduction to the series in 2004.

He and his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet along with Chad Knaus on top of his pit box, won only one race this season, his fewest in any full season he has ever run. Johnson has averaged almost six wins per season dating back to 2002, including 10 wins in 2007 when he won his second Sprint Cup Championship.

The new points system hasn't seemed to help Johnson very much though. He finds himself in fifth place entering the chase, nine points out of first. Johnson must get off to a good start in the chase. The rain delay at Chicagoland will either help calm his nerves or build up the anxiety within.

Johnson starts the race on the outside of row six, qualifying in the 12th position (fifth of the 12 chase drivers). 

Jeff Gordon

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Jeff Gordon has been on the circuit for years. Having won four championships already, he has been on the drive for five since his last championship win in 2001.

The No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet seems to always get better on the long runs and short sprint, green-white-checkered finishes don't seem to benefit his racing very much. Gordon has continued to win this season without Steve Letarte, winning three races on the year (Phoenix, Pocono, Atlanta).

Gordon has run every season of his career with Hendrick Motorsports, and seems to get better every year. He hasn't had any 10+ win seasons like he did in the late '90s, but he has been able to consistently finish within the Top Ten in points year after year.

In his 19-year career, Gordon has finished outside the top 10 in points (1993 rookie season, 2005 only year Gordon missed chase). The 24 team starts their next race 23rd and will have to work their way through the field to control the damage to his three-point deficit.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The poster child of NASCAR and the Sprint Cup series has been Dale Earnhardt Jr. The 88 Amp Energy Chevy seems like it is repelled from victory lane. But that doesn't stop him from finishing near the top of the leaderboard.

Jr. has the fewest wins, top fives and top ten finishes out of any driver in the chase. Jr. has won at Chicagoland before, in 2005, and expects to finish strong again to make up ground in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Dale will start his car on the inside of row 10 in Monday's Geico 400 in the 19th position.

Nobody really expects much out of Dale in the chase, He hasn't won a race since 2008, and he hasn't had a Top Ten finish since the Pocono race in early August.

The rest of the Chase is full of contenders.

Kyle Busch and Keven Harvick lead the charge, up three points on Jeff Gordon.

Matt Kenseth is three points behind Jeff and there is a four-driver tie for fifth place, between Johnson, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.

Tony Stewart is tied for last in the chase with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the two wild-card winners.

Out of all the Chase contenders, the only drivers to be counted out are Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., along with wild-card contenders Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. They haven't won a race all season and haven't proven themselves at all in recent weeks.

This leaves Johnson and Gordon against six other drivers, giving them a 25 percent chance to win. This can be improved to 50 percent after eliminating all non-Chevrolet competitors. Chevrolet has won 34 championships compared to Ford, Dodge and Toyota (all other competing brands) with seven.

As long as they can avoid trouble, Hendrick Motorsports will be on top of the podium once again at Homestead-Miami in November.


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