Will NASCAR Crown A New Champion?
JOLIET, Ill. – There are four good reasons why becoming a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is supremely difficult.
This year’s challenge is to beat four competitors who have been to the top of the mountain before – 13 times, to be exact.
The 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup roster is stacked with veterans, headed by former champions Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.
Johnson won five consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010. Gordon counts four championships. Stewart is a three-time and reigning titleholder. Kenseth’s single championship came in 2003, the season before the Chase format was introduced.
The four have won a combined 91 times on the 10 tracks comprising the Chase schedule. Johnson and Gordon each have won 31 Chase-track races.
Johnson enters the Chase as the No. 2 seed with 2,009 points – three behind leader Denny Hamlin. Stewart, also a three-time winner, is seeded third also with 2,009 points. Gordon must come from the rear as the 12th and final seed, claiming the second Wild Card by three points over Kyle Busch. He starts with 2,000 points.
- Johnson statistically is the top contender with a Chase track Driver Rating of 108.7. He claims the best average start (10.6) and average finish (10.1) and has led 14.2% of laps run. He is without a victory at Chicagoland and Homestead but has finished second twice at both tracks.
- Gordon, whose last championship came in 2001, is the all-time leader among this year’s qualifiers on Chase tracks with 278 starts, 122 top-five and 167 top-10 finishes. He has a second Driver Rating of 97.3. Homestead is the only Chase track on which Gordon has failed to win, his best a third in 2004.
- Stewart is the only driver in the postseason to have won at every Chase track and is the defending winner of Chicagoland’s GEICO 400. He has 21 victories on the 10 post-season stops, third-best to Johnson and Gordon. His Driver Rating (94.9) ranks third among Chase qualifiers.
- Kenseth, who’ll run his final 10 races for Roush Fenway Racing, counts eight victories on five of the 10 Chase tracks – but none at Chicagoland, where he has a pair of runner-up finishes. He won the Coors Light Pole in Joliet a year ago. Kenseth has a fourth-best Chase track Driver Rating of 94.0.
All 12 Chase qualifiers have been in the postseason before. Johnson has qualified for all nine under the format. The 12 drivers have won a combined 318 NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
They represent seven different organizations, with Hendrick Motorsports having put all four of its drivers (Gordon, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne) into the Chase. Roush Fenway Racing (Kenseth and Greg Biffle) and Michael Waltrip Racing (Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.) each have two drivers. MWR reaches the Chase for the first time since becoming a full-season team in 2007. Joe Gibbs Racing (Hamlin), Penske Racing (Brad Keselowski), Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Stewart) complete the field.
Chevrolet represents half the Chase field with six drivers. Toyota fills three spots, Ford two and Dodge one.