Having reached the midway point of the Chase, it's time to reflect, mull things over and meditate on what we've learned.
Note: This isn't just my intro; it's homework. Get mulling.
First, we just can't count Jimmie Johnson out (more on that later). Two races into the Chase, he was down 29 points. Two races later, he was down just four. Now, back down 35 points.
Second, consistency is key. Each of the past two years, Johnson had nine top-10s on his way to a title. The two years before that, eight. You don't get many mulligans.
Fourth, it's disheartening to watch a race or championship be decided by a broken part, a loose lug nut or a few drops of fuel. The message: attention to detail. I might even proofread this today.
Finally, this week is Talladega, so who knows where we'll be at this time next week.
On with the blog!
Last week, I read about how underrated Matt Kenseth was in the humor and wit department, something a guy like me can appreciate. Now, the features are about how he's a real contender for a second championship.
Kenseth ran 10 laps under 29 seconds, four more than any other driver in the field. In fact, only nine other drivers in the field ran a lap under 29 seconds at any point. Two of Kenseth's sub-29 laps came after the final restart. The rest of the field combined for two in that time.
Trivia break! Matt Kenseth's other Chase race win came at which track?
Carl Edwards remains atop the points, something he has done for 17 of 31 races this season. But he has won only once -- again, consistency is key.
Edwards has a top-10 in each of the first five Chase races, just the sixth time that has happened. If Edwards gets to six, that's good. Three times, a driver has had a top-10 in the first six Chase races, and all three went on to win the title.
Trivia break! Who are the two drivers to have six straight top-10s to start a Chase?
Is Jimmie still in it?
The 34th-place finish was Johnson's fifth worst in a Chase race. The last time he finished that bad in the Chase, 2009 at Texas, he won the next week.
In 2006, Johnson was seventh in the points after five Chase races, yet he still rebounded to win the title after finishing in the top two in each of the next four races, with a ninth in the finale.
Is he still in it? I'm not ready to rule him out yet, that's for sure.
Trivia break! Who led after five races in the 2006 Chase?
I wanted to come up with something to rank the strength of the Chase drivers on a race-by-race basis. So I came up with a nerdy formula, using recent performance, plus recent performance at the specific track, to predict who'll be strong in the next race.
Here are my Chase power rankings for Talladega:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Kyle Busch
4. Kurt Busch
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7. Carl Edwards
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Tony Stewart
12. Ryan Newman
Trivia break answers
1. Kenseth won at Homestead in 2007.
2. Johnson (twice) and Kurt Busch have done it.
3. Jeff Burton led at the halfway point.