Getting worked up over Chase points at halfway mark? Pointless

Jerry Markland

NASCAR is halfway through its 10-race Chase playoffs, and it's obvious which drivers are the contenders: Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

It'll be those three to the end, all the way down to the season finale at Homestead.

End of story. Done deal. No doubt.

Right?

"Here's the thing, five races – that's a lot of racing," said Clint Bowyer, who is fourth in the standings. "There's a tremendous amount of racing left. When you think about it, man, there's only five races left, but at the end of the day that's a lot of racing."

OK, we get it: There's a lot of racing left. But still, it's not enough time to shake things up.

Is it?

Before we all jump to conclusions and make assumptions about which drivers are in the best position to win the title, let's look at some recent Chase history:

• Last year, Tony Stewart was fifth in the point standings – 24 points behind the leaders, which is about what Bowyer is now (28) – and he looked to be finished. He even told crew chief Darian Grubb after five races to look for a new job at the end of the year. Then Stewart ended up going on an epic run and winning the whole thing.

• Halfway through the 2010 Chase, Jimmie Johnson looked to be running away with his fifth straight championship. Though he ultimately won the title, it hardly turned out the way people thought. Three races later, Johnson was 33 points behind Denny Hamlin (under the old system) – who entered the season finale with the lead before coughing it up.

• In 2008, Jeff Burton won the Charlotte race and suddenly seemed to be in position to challenge Johnson for the championship. The headlines said Burton, who was then second in points, might finally win his first Cup title. But he ultimately finished sixth, and it was instead Carl Edwards who challenged Johnson until the end.

• Jeff Gordon led at the halfway point of the 2007 Chase and had a 68-point lead over Johnson with five races to go. He lost by 77.

• At the midpoint of the 2006 Chase, Johnson was in seventh place – a whopping 146 points behind the leaders and a total afterthought. Then he went on an insane run and won the championship by 56 points over Matt Kenseth. No one saw that coming.

As you can tell, it turns out Bowyer is exactly right: It's useless to try and declare which driver will win the championship – or even who will still be in contention at Homestead – based on the first five races of the Chase.

Sure, we know which drivers have been virtually eliminated – that's likely everyone but Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin and Bowyer – but we don't know which of those four will head to Homestead in position to win.

Johnson could crash at Kansas and get spun at Martinsville in the next two weeks, and all of the sudden there would be a Hamlin/Keselowski duel. Or Keselowski could suddenly go cold while Johnson continues his typically stellar Chase performance, and Johnson could clinch before Homestead even arrives.

And, yes, it's possible even Bowyer could make a run from being fourth in points. Stranger things have happened, especially with two short tracks and a repaved track at Kansas making this weekend's race another wild card.

"You never know what's going to happen, so 28 points out – it's a lot better than where we were leaving Talladega," Bowyer said. "I'm excited, pumped up and I know the guys are, too."

He's correct. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, calm down and check back in two weeks when the final push for the Chase really begins.

Until then, speculation over the points is, well, pointless.

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