Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dover Storylines

What a difference a Chase makes.

Tony Stewart unleashed his own version of rope-a-dope again last weekend, going two-for-two to open the Chase, this time winning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In doing so, Stewart went from worst-to-first in two races, nabbing the points lead and becoming an immediate favorite to win his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Can Stewart win his third straight this weekend? If so, it’ll be the first time he has ever won three consecutive races. His chance will come Sunday, in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

NASCAR Nationwide Series action returns this weekend, and the battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler continues. Their fight for a first NASCAR Nationwide title wages on in Saturday afternoon’s OneMain Financial 200 at Dover.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to its penultimate standalone race of the season, with a tight three-way points battle between Austin Dillon, James Buescher and Johnny Sauter. The tough trucks hit Kentucky Speedway for Saturday night’s Kentucky 225.


Stewart Doubles Up To Open Chase
Stewart wears the early crown among those drivers aiming to end Jimmie Johnson’s reign of five consecutive titles.

After going winless the entire 26-race regular season, Stewart has won the first two races of the Chase. Only one other driver has ever opened the Chase with two consecutive wins – Greg Biffle in 2008. Biffle finished third in the points that season.

If Stewart wins again at Dover, it’ll be the first time he has ever won three-consecutive races in his career. It’ll also be the first time a driver has won three consecutive races in the Chase since Jimmie Johnson won four straight in 2007.

Stewart’s last two finishes at Dover have been outside the top 20, but he does have two-career wins at the one-mile concrete track.

Keselowski Climb Continues
In only nine races, Brad Keselowski has moved from 23rd in points to his current position of third. A few reasons for his startling launch up the points standings…
- Of course, the reset helped. After Richmond, all Chase drivers had their points total reset to 2,000 points, with the top 10 drivers tacking on three bonus points for each win during the regular season.
- Still, over the last nine races, his stats look like this: two wins, six top fives and eight top 10s.
- Keselowski’s worst finish was a still-solid 12th at Richmond.

Keselowski’s third-place points position is the best of his career.

Harvick Owns Lucky No. 2
Though Kevin Harvick lost the points lead at New Hampshire, he might like this position a little better once hearing these numbers.

During the Chase era (2004-Present), the points leader after the second Chase race has never gone on to win the championship. In four of the seven previous Chases, though, the driver in second after two Chase races did go on to win the championship – including Jimmie Johnson in each of the last three seasons.

Johnson In Unchartered Territory
Jimmie Johnson, he of seemingly never-ending Chase success, is currently 10th in points. That’s his lowest Chase position ever. His previous low was ninth, three different times.

An 18th-place finish at New Hampshire put him 29 points behind the points leader, Tony Stewart. Johnson need only look at his own past history to know that this lead is not insurmountable. In 2006, he was 136 points behind then leader Jeff Burton after two Chase races – and came back to win his first championship.

Of course, there was a different points structure then, but a 29 point deficit now roughly translates to a 120-point deficit under the only points structure.

More good news: Dover’s up next. Johnson has won three of the last five Dover races, and six overall.

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