Tony Stewart's turn to make Chase run?

October, 26, 2011

OK, kids, gather around close. Not too close, though.

I want to talk today about which of these championship contenders has a favorable schedule heading down the stretch.

Now, forgive me in advance, but I'm going to halt the talk at the top five, the drivers who can realistically be leading the points heading out of Martinsville. I'm not going to say that Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are 100 percent out of the mix yet, but I'm going to wait for them to sniff the lead a little bit more closely to include them in the discussion.

Looking at the top five's driver ratings dating back to 2005 at these tracks, we could be ready for Tony Stewart to make a run.

Stewart's driver rating at Martinsville and Texas, the next two races, rank in the top four among all drivers. He could be right in the mix going to the final two races.

But it's not all sunshine, rainbows and happiness for Stewart. Earlier this season, Stewart struggled at those tracks, ranking 29th in driver rating at Martinsville and 15th at Texas.

How about Mr. Points Leader Carl Edwards? If Edwards can escape Martinsville, where he's 14th in driver rating, he could be in the catbird seat, with a top-5 driver rating at the final three tracks dating back to 2005.

Let's look at the other three, lightning-round style!

• Matt Kenseth -- He owns Texas, and he owns Homestead. His big issue will be getting through Martinsville, where he ran better than his career average in the spring. Phoenix isn't his strongest track, but I see that being a real wild card because of the repaving and configuration change.

• Brad Keselowski -- It's so tough to judge his past career performance, and even his performance earlier this season, because of how much he's outperformed his early career results recently. In his last race at all four remaining tracks, however, he ranked outside the top 10 in driver rating.

• Kevin Harvick -- Talladega was a huge blow for a driver who has performed well at the final three Chase tracks. Harvick won earlier this year at Martinsville and has two straight top-3 finishes there, but those are his only top-5s at the track. His numbers at Phoenix are good, but again, that track will be a wild card. Homestead is his strongest track left on the schedule, but will he still be in it?

Five up, five down. I think I've earned myself a big sandwich, and I think you're owed an Eliminator!

The Eliminator: Martinsville

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking names off the top of their heads. I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Sixteen of the past 17 Martinsville winners had a previous top-2 finish at the track (32 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The past 14 Martinsville winners finished ninth or better in the previous Martinsville race (10 eliminated, five remaining).

3. Nine of the past 10 Martinsville winners finished in the top six a year earlier at the Virginia track (four eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kevin Harvick.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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