Chase needs a dominant team

BY Jeff Hammond • October 5, 2011

Even after only three of the 10 races in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, I think everyone is mystified about why Kyle Busch isn’t running any better than he is.

His No. 18 camp has got to get its arms around some consistency so it can be a factor in this year's Chase.

Actually, if you look at Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole, it hasn’t shown the strength we expected. A year ago, Denny Hamlin won eight races and took the championship battle to the last race of the year before finishing second to Jimmie Johnson. Compared to last year, Denny has had a horrible 2011. Busch had been having a great 2011 season until the Chase began.

I really expected Busch to be more of challenger in this year’s Chase, but up to this point, he hasn’t been. I thought he would be more of a factor at Dover International Speedway last Sunday, but he wasn’t. I just hope this is not yet another repeat of Kyle’s history in the Chase where he has such a great regular season only to become a non-factor once the Chase gets under way.

Hamlin’s fans want to hold out hope that things will turn around for his No. 11 team, but I am afraid that ship has sailed. Denny is mired in 12th place in the Chase points and some 68 points out of first. If that team was running well, then you could hold onto a glimmer of hope, but they aren’t. Even Denny has said the championship is out of reach and now with the pressure off it’s time to go race and have fun.

For all intents and purposes, Denny is a race-and-a-half behind in the points. It’s going to take the Big One at Talladega Superspeedway taking the other 11 guys out of the event and for Denny to win to have a huge points swing. Is that even realistic? No, but with the great equalizer that Talladega and the potential for that crash is, I’ve learned never to say never. For me, though, now Denny just needs to race for pride, put wins up on the board and make the other 11 guys thankful he is that far behind.

I am also surprised that Ryan Newman hasn’t performed better in the Chase. I really thought since he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team seemed to have the consistency under their belt, that he might have been one of those guys that could have been a dark horse.

Some of the other drivers have not been as surprising. When it comes to Dale Earnhardt Jr., well this is what I was afraid of. My hope had been if he could hang on and make the Chase, then maybe he and his Hendrick Motorsports team could put some consistent runs together and be a factor. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened either. I’ve really liked Dale Jr.’s attitude, but the team has been letting him down.

As a team you have to be able to put the bad races behind you and recover. Some of the teams I’ve just mentioned haven’t been able to do that. That’s why I am really curious to see how Tony Stewart performs at Kansas Speedway this weekend. He was coming off a two-race win streak, but stumbled at Dover last Sunday with a bad race. So I want to see how his No. 14 team handles that and which direction it goes come this weekend.

Let's face it, we don’t have a dominant team this year in the Chase. Guys get hot, like Tony did, but then stumble and give back the advantage they held. There isn’t a team out there that is taking control of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase and making it their own. That’s something that has been puzzling to me.

So these next seven races are really going to be exciting. The question that will be answered come the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November is who can handle the pressure the best? Who can overcome a bad race, not look back and move forward?

That’s the key and our 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is waiting for whoever can do that.

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