Well, it's finally here. The Chase for the Nextel Cup, NASCAR's version of a playoff system. To help you prepare for the 10 week showdown, Rusty's going to give you a run down of each of the 12 drivers in the Chase, this week. Included in that ranking will be the Rusty's Power Ranking, my own personal index of who's got the best shot to win the title.
Today we look at the #4 and #3 positions, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.
Denny Hamlin - No one in NASCAR is riding higher than Denny Hamlin right now. Denny won Richmond this past weekend in dominating fashion. If there's one race Denny's had circled on his calendar since coming to Cup it was Richmond. He hails from Chesterfield County, just across the river, so he grew up watching races at Richmond. To win there was like harpooning his white whale. This means coming into New Hampshire and the rest of the Chase, Denny's got a big shot of Uncle Mo on his side. In addition to a victory at Richmond, Denny also found victory lane after another rather dominating performance at Pocono. Add that to 9 top 5's and 14 top 10's, and Denny's going to be a tough car to beat. What does hurt Denny's chances, however, are the struggles at Joe Gibbs racing. Hamlin's the only Gibbs driver in the Chase this year, after all 3 drivers made it last year. While Denny doesn't need Kyle and Joey to win, it certainly doesn't hurt his case. This is why even with a strong team, I'm not predicting much of a chance for Denny to the win the trophy this year.
Position before Richmond: 4
Rusty's Power Ranking: 6
Jimmie Johnson - Make no mistake about it. Jimmie Johnson is my hands down favorite to win the championship. Since 2006, Jimmie's won three consecutive titles to tie Cale Yarborough's record. This year, he's going to break it. Why? Because Jimmie and Chad Knaus, his crew cheif, know how to run up front and win when they need to. This year, they've amassed 3 wins, 9 top 5's, 15 top 10's, and only 1 DNF. Even though Jimmie's had a few of his poorer showings lately, 36 in Atlanta, 33 in Michigan, I would be more apt to chalk that up to the experimentations of Knaus than a genuine struggle with the car. Knaus and Johnson have a formula for winning. They have an ability to adjust a race car throughout a race and get it to the front to win. Last year, Johnson had 4 wins going into the Chase, tallied another 3 and won the title. In 2007, 6 wins before the chase, and then 4 consecutive wins in October and November to win the title. The first year, it was 5 wins, with one more in the Chase in addition to 4 runner up finishes. Clearly, he knows when to turn it up a notch. So this year, I've seen nothing to indicate they aren't capable of doing it again. Tony and Mark are stiff competition, but I think this is Jimmie's championship to lose.
Position before Richmond: 3
Rusty's Power Ranking: 1
Next Up: #2 Tony Stewart