Candidates to be next first-time winner

So we’ve reached the halfway point in our 2011 Race to the Chase. What do I expect to happen in the next 13 weeks? I think we can pretty much expect more of the same. I think we will see more surprise winners. In the first 13 races we had a three shockers with Trevor Bayne at Daytona, Regan Smith at Darlington and then Brad Keselowski last weekend at Kansas.

In these next 13 races it would not surprise me in the least to see either Paul Menard, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose or AJ Allmendinger join the ranks of first-time winners. With two road courses still on the 2011 schedule, especially Sonoma in a few weeks, the man to beat there will probably be Ambrose.

Look for the intensity to keep building all the way to Richmond in September, which is the last race to set the Chase field. The next 13 weeks have tracks of all shapes and sizes on the schedule as well.

Another trend I believe we will see is similar to what we saw last Sunday in Kansas with Keselowski. You may not have the best car that weekend, but in the course of the race you figure out how to get the best finish with that car. I just think you will see more guys gambling and going for the win than in any previous year because of how important wins mean for possibly getting in this year’s Chase.

One of the guys I am definitely going to be watching these next 13 weeks is Tony Stewart. He started this year off so strong and actually led in points the first three or four races of the season. After that, his team basically fell off the map. They fell on their face at tracks where Tony should be able to put a blindfold on and finish better.

We are really starting to come into some of Tony’s favorite racetracks, so he is one I will be watching.

Another driver, one who has started making noise this past month, is Denny Hamlin. His finish last Sunday at Kansas has moved him up another spot and he now sits in the 11th spot in the points.

Penske Racing as a whole is going to be another one on my radar. Whatever changed at Penske Racing has definitely been in the right direction. I think Kurt Busch and Keselowski are feeding off each other. They both have a ton of momentum going right now and I am eager to see where it carries them.