Analysis: Breaking down the Chasers

OK, here’s the deal: One week from Sunday night, either Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth will be your 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. That much is a done deal.

And over the next 13 days, all of us in the NASCAR media will be picking apart the various championship scenarios and possibilities, over and over and over again. As my colleague Kyle Petty is fond of saying, “It’s a two-man race.” And so those two men are going to be talked about. A lot.

But what about the other drivers in the Chase? Well, here’s a little something on every Chase driver:

13. KASEY KAHNE — Why is Kahne 13th in points after eight races? Simple. He’s the only one of the 13 Chase racers to finish 25th or worse in three Chase races. And in the NASCAR points system, bad finishes hurt you a lot more than good ones help.

12. RYAN NEWMAN — Originally, Newman wasn’t even in the Chase, but was moved into NASCAR’s playoff round after the Michael Waltrip Racing shenanigans at Richmond were uncovered. In truth, though, Newman’s Chase has been mediocre, with a best finish of eighth.

11. CARL EDWARDS — Talk about disappointments. Edwards led the points after the 26-race Sprint Cup regular season wrapped up in Richmond, where he won. But finishes of 35th at Dover and 37th on Sunday at Texas have killed his championship hopes.

10. KURT BUSCH — Despite two top fives in the first four Chase races, the elder Busch has faded lately, finishing between 14th and 18th in each of the last four races. And get this: He’s only led three laps in the Chase, fewest of any of the title hopefuls.

9. JOEY LOGANO — It’s been a bi-polar Chase for Logano, with four finishes of third or fourth and four finishes of 14th or worse. Still, his first year with Penske Racing will end up being the best year of his career to date, which is positive.

8. GREG BIFFLE — Consistency has been the keyword for the Biff. Aside from a third-place run at New Hampshire, he’s finished no better than ninth and no worse than 16th in the other seven Chase races.

7. CLINT BOWYER — No surprise that Bowyer and Biffle are next to each other in points, because their stats are very similar. Bowyer has one third- and one ninth-place finish, with a worst of 17th.

6. JEFF GORDON — For one week following his victory at Martinsville, Gordon’s name was in the championship discussion. A cut tire at Texas changed all that, but Gordon still has five finishes of seventh or better, which is impressive. The fire and passion are back for Gordon.

5. DALE EARNHARDT JR. — How hard is it to make up points in the Chase? In the last three races, Earnhardt has finished second, eighth and second, yet he only made up four points on Johnson in that span. Still, Junior is on track to have his finest year since joining Hendrick Motorsports.

4. KYLE BUSCH — Another driver likely to end the season higher in points than he’s ever been before is Kyle Busch, who has five top fives in the Chase, including runner-up finishes at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. Now, if he can just figure out how to run at Kansas.

3. KEVIN HARVICK — The most remarkable story of the Chase might be Harvick, a lame duck at Richard Childress Racing who got in a spat with the boss’s grandsons. Yet, here he is, third in points with two races to go. Harvick has one victory, two top-five and six top-10 Chase finishes. More importantly, his worst finish in the Chase is 20th.

2. MATT KENSETH — At seven points back, Kenseth is certainly in position to win his second championship. But the most disturbing statistical trend for Kenseth is this: After winning the first two Chase races, Kenseth was 18 points ahead of Johnson. That means in the last six races, Kenseth has lost 25 points to Johnson — not a good sign. Kenseth’s average Chase finish is 6.125.

1. JIMMIE JOHNSON — There’s a reason Johnson’s going for his sixth championship. He has two Chase victories this year, giving him 24 in 98 Chase races for his career, a remarkable stat. This time around, Johnson’s average Chase finish is 4.875, with two Chase victories and six top-five finishes. Still the man to beat.