With his win last week at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS), Dale Earnhardt Junior brought an end to the four-year, 143 race losing streak that had begun to define him as a NASCAR racer. His last victory? It came on Father’s Day four years ago, where he ended a 76 race losing streak right here at MIS. Year in and out the most popular driver in all of NASCAR, the win came once again on Father’s Day, a befitting venue for the man whose father was one of the all-time greats, and whose fans still religiously wear black #3 gear every race day. That win also vaulted Earnhardt Junior into second place in the Sprint Cup standings. Matt Kenseth currently sits in the number one spot in the Sprint Cup championship hunt, a position he weakly holds with only four points separating him and the hot Earnhardt Junior.
Kenseth is known as a consistent driver, excelling on virtually every type of racetrack. The Sprint Cup pays those drivers who consistently finish in the top 10, and that is Matt Kenseth’s modus operandi. Yes, I understand the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is still almost 3 months away, but Kenseth has been behind the wheel of some very fast Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) Fords so far this year. In 2012 he has eight top-five finishes in the first 15 races, tied with Jimmie Johnson and RFR teammate Greg Biffle for most this year. And his 11 top tens are second only to Junior.
But last year his teammate Carl Edwards looked like he was going to run away with the NASCAR Sprint cup, only to see the unimaginable happened. Tony Stewart did what was all but mathematically impossible, due to the intricate Chase points system. All 12 chase drivers have their points total reset to zero to make for a much more dramatic finish over the final 10 races before the champion is crowned. As it is in many other sports, this means you just have to make the Chase For the Championship to have a chance, and be running hot at the right time.
In 2011, Carl Edwards had a huge points lead in the Chase with five races to go, but Tony Stewart caught fire at just the right time, and Smoke was able to take down the championship. The Chase for the Championship is the culmination of the Sprint Cup season, much as postseason play is to the regular season of the NBA, MLB or NFL professional sports leagues. Certainly the first 26 races of the year are important, as they decide whether a driver gets to race in the Chase, but those last 10 Chase for the Championship Sprint cup races are what every NASCAR season is all about.
How exactly does it work? The Sprint Cup is NASCAR’s senior circuit, and the Chase for the Sprint Cup can be considered the Super Bowl of NASCAR. After those first 26 races, the 10 highest ranked drivers according to points make the Chase along with the two NASCAR drivers with the most wins who rank from 11th through 20th in points. Since its inception in 2004, only three drivers have won the Sprint Cup Championship. Kurt Busch won the inaugural 2004 title, Tony Stewart has won in both 2005 and 2011, and the perennial champion Jimmie Johnson won an incredible five straight times, from 2006 to 2010. It is much too early to think about crowning a champion, but with only 107 points separating the top 10 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, you’d better buckle your seatbelts for what’s certain to be a wild and exciting ride the rest of the season.
Even though the Chase for the Cup is still several months off, the Vegas odds are already circulating and sizing the drivers up. Get in early on the action at Bovada Sports Sprint Cup odds page.