Stewart, Johnson show how it's done

BY Larry McReynolds • October 10, 2011

There have been a lot of comebacks this year.

Even since NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup has started, we’ve had two. The first came from Tony Stewart, who hadn’t won a race all year, then came right out of the box and won the first two Chase races.

Then last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, we saw the reemergence of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. Up until then, they had only won one race this year, and it was way back in April at Talladega.

The best comeback story of the season, to me, is Brad Keselowski. Here is a team that in the first dozen or so races of 2011 didn’t even look like it could stay in the top 25 in points, let alone the top 20 in points. Keselowski and his team came back in the second half of the regular season on fire. They won three races and vaulted into the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

So far, they have had three top-five finishes in the Chase. The only bump in the road was the power-steering issue that regulated them back to a 20th-place finish at Dover International Speedway two races ago. Now, with six races to go, they are sitting very easily within striking distance for the championship.

Now for those looking for the comeback of the 2011 Chase, it would have to be Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s team. Let’s face it, two races ago they were 20-plus points out of first. After winning at Kansas, Jimmie is now only four points out of the lead in third position, behind only Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.

I can’t say I am surprised to see his team doing well. I guess maybe I was more surprised it took them so long to get going. I guess maybe those first two Chase races weren’t a real good measuring stick of where their program really was.

At Dover, they came home second. They took all that momentum and simply annihilated the field at Kansas on Sunday. They led the most laps. They won the race and racked up the most points for the weekend.

With all that said, I am not saying it is a lock that Jimmie will win his sixth championship. Everyone needs to take a look at how well Carl Edwards is running. He is the only Chase driver to have four top-10 finishes in as many races. That’s why he is now leading the points.

You also saw that team come back from a lot at Kansas. At one point, Edwards was two laps down. He and his team overcame that and Carl brought his Ford home in fifth spot.

So we are down to only six races left. To me, three of those six are races are places where there are a lot of unknowns. You have Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks. You have Martinsville Speedway the week after that. Then the next-to-last race of the season is at Phoenix International Raceway in November. I think the guys who are 20 to 25 points out of the lead are still strong players to possibly win the championship.

Obviously for a guy like Jeff Gordon, this year's Chase has been nothing the fans or even he anticipated. Losing the engine at the end of the race Sunday in Kansas really was costly. He is 43 points out now. As you have heard me say many times, it is not the 43 points by itself. It’s the 43 points combined with the guys he has to leapfrog to get to the top.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As we’ve seen all year long and what I talked about earlier in this article, this is the year of comebacks.

Now to Jeff’s credit, he is running well enough to still be a player in this thing. Tony pulled off two straight wins when even he didn’t think he should be in the Chase, so why couldn’t Jeff Gordon?

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