Column: Chase begins on Sunday

Published 2:06 am Friday, September 14, 2007

By Staff
The fourth edition of the Chase for the Championship begins Sunday in New Hampshire. Over the next 10 weeks, 12 drivers will compete for the honor of sitting center stage at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in late November after winning the Nextel Cup championship.
It seemed like the run-up to the 26th race of the season, and last before the field was set, was anti-climatic.
The same 12 drivers occupied the top 12 positions in the standings since the race after Pocono, five weeks ago.
The September race at Richmond had been highly anticipated and either pushed a driver in or out of the chase over the last three years. If the number of drivers would have remained at 10, the race last Saturday night would have held the same importance. As it is, the chase field was all set and the drama was minimized.
Jimmie Johnson sits atop the standings by virtue of his six wins, worth sixty bonus points, during the "regular season." Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch round out the top five going into New Hampshire this weekend. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Burton enter the chase in positions six through 10. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer sit in positions 11 and 12. Every Chase driver has won this year, excluding Clint Bowyer.
There are nine Chevrolets, two Fords, and one Dodge in the chase and the 12 drivers have won 23 of the 26 races this season. Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports represent half the field, with three teams each. Joe Gibbs racing has two teams, as does Roush Racing. Dale Earnhardt, Inc and Penske Racing South each are represented by one team a piece.
Early in February before Speedweeks at Daytona, I predicted the drivers that I thought would make the chase. How did that work out for me? For you John Boy and Billy fans, Not too good! I hit on seven of the twelve drivers and missed on Kasey Kahne, Dale Jr., Casey Mears, Elliott Sadler, and Greg Biffle. In fact, I picked Kasey Kahne to finish second in the final standings. I guess Kasey will be on again, off again kind of driver.
Speaking of "K-squared," a press conference is scheduled for next Tuesday to officially announce that Budweiser will become the No. 9's primary sponsor in 2008. Anheuser-Busch doesn't make too many mistakes and will not make one in picking Kasey, but I just don't see Kahne as the Budweiser type.
I guess his deal with Vitamin Water will be put to bed now, I will miss those commercials where Kahne is challenging the guy to a Yak pull-off.
Also on the sponsorship front, an announcement is set to take place next Wednesday in Dallas to let the world know Junior's new number and sponsor. The sponsorship is a badly kept secret. Dallas is the headquarters of PepsiCo, so I guess the Mountain Dew rumors are right on. The car number is a different story. Reports have even come from the US Patent Office, where Hendrick has trademarked several numbers. Anyone thought about the 98? Keep that number in the back of your head come Wednesday.
The flat one-mile track at New Hampshire is Sunday. My pick to win the race is Jeff Burton.