Dover International offered a nice respite from the cookie cutter mile and a half tracks, but the winner was a surprise, at least to me. You just can’t count anyone out this year. Many had Jimmie Johnson left for dead and had already crowned Tony Stewart, but Stewart returned to his 2011 form and Johnson finished second. Carl Edwards had the fastest car, and but for a driver mistake, might be leading the pack. Such is the 2011 Chase. It’s unpredictable.
[media-credit id=26 align=”alignright” width=”238″][/media-credit]Still, I feel Johnson is in the driver’s seat. Johnson, after a couple of bad performances coupled with the leaders falling back to the norm, is back in the race. That’s bad news for the rest of the field. You might blame Edwards for this turn of events. Edwards dominated the Nationwide Series race on Saturday and appeared to be doing the same on Sunday, but a mental mistake cost him the win and left him third in the race. Champions rarely make these kinds of mistakes. In an earlier column, I asked if the No. 99 team was ready to be Sprint Cup champions. I stand by my conclusion then. The mistake cost Edwards two positions and the point lead and allowed Johnson to close in on a sixth straight championship.
Kurt Busch spoiled the party. The former champ took the ball and ran with the Edwards mistake. He was able to win and keep Johnson behind him. Matt Kenseth’s team made an error by taking on four tires when everyone else took two. Kenseth probably had the second best car, but that call from the crew chief once again allowed Johnson to gain another position. This is how championships are won. Putting space between themselves and Johnson is all important. Those two teams didn’t do that and allowed the five-time champion to inch closer to another title. It was almost scripted.
Of course, there are the wild cards in the final seven races. Talladega is one place where any one of the nine leaders can have a bad race (I’ve already written off Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Ryan Newman, and Denny Hamlin). I would consider the short track at Martinsville a wild card, but Johnson’s track record there, as well as the fact that Kenseth and Edwards don’t run well there, tends to be in his favor.
Unless the Roush-Fenway teams of Edwards and Kenseth get their act together, the champion will be a battle between Kevin Harvick, Johnson, and Kurt Busch, but you just never know, as we’ve seen this year. Brad Keselowski could return to his latter season hotness, Jeff Gordon could go on a win streak (which I really doubt),Kyle Busch could revert back to his mid-season form, or Edwards and Kenseth could surprise, but I doubt it. It’s down to Harvick, Johnson, and Kurt Busch, and you know who my money’s on.
Johnson chided the media after Dover with marked comments. He is a confident fellow. It would be good for the sport if someone else won the Cup, but you can’t argue with performance. The thing that bothers me is that’s it’s almost like other drivers are helping “Old Five Time” to another championship. Sure, they don’t mean to, but the result is the same. Give the trophy to Johnson and let’s race the rest of the season.