Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Chase Favorites, Feuds & Clint Bowyer’s Future

Going into Chicagoland and the first round of the 2011 edition of the Chase for the Cup, there are many stories surrounding what we might see on the racetrack in the coming weeks, but we here at Frontstretch have narrowed it down to Four Burning Questions.

1.) Will the Jimmie Johnson/Kurt Busch feud carry into the Chase?

Make no mistake about it: These two individuals get along about as well as Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. There definitely is bad blood and animosity between these two, and after last week’s skirmishes, to quote the legendary Dee Snider, “they’re not going to take it anymore.” The question with these two isn’t so much if there will be retribution; it’s a matter of when that payback happens.

Kurt Busch is hell-bent on making sure that Jimmie Johnson does not win the Chase, while Johnson is determined not to be bullied around like a 98-pound weakling in high school gym class. Will that pay-back happen at Chicagoland? Highly doubtful, but don’t be surprised to see the ill will come to a head somewhere like Dover or Martinsville where trading paint is the norm.

As far as which is really in the other’s head, the jury is still out on that; Johnson took the “deny everything” route last week and looked about as sincere as a politician in the process. Kurt, however, seemed to be suffering from a bout of PMS (Petulant Moron Syndrome) by going after Joe Menzer and having to be restrained, then ripping up Jenna Fryer’s notes.

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Memo to Kurt: Temper-tantrums like that belong in the WWE, not in NASCAR. Considering this, on the surface it looks like Kurt’s more rattled than Jimmie, but one has to remember that Johnson is not usually the type of driver who will wreck another … or even involved in episodes such as these.

2.) Is this the year someone ends Jimmie Johnson’s half-decade of domination?

One of the more talked-about questions of the week is will this be the first time in half a decade that NASCAR fans see someone besides Johnson hoisting the championship trophy at Homestead? This year, in some aspects, appears to have more legitimate threats to end his reign than in years past. Drivers like Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick or even Brad Keselowski have legitimate shots at beating Johnson for the championship. But can any of them put together the necessary consistency to win the Chase?

Edwards, Kenseth, Keselowski and Harvick have all shown flashes, but none have put together the type of full-season consistency necessary to be anointed as successor to Johnson. The two drivers with the most realistic shot of dethroning Johnson are Gordon, who has been five-alarm hot lately, and Kyle Busch.

Busch has been largely as consistent as Johnson points-wise, but he has a few more failures to finish than the No. 48 team, which could prove interesting in the final ten races. As for Gordon, down the stretch he’s been just as consistent as Johnson, if not more so, and his win over Johnson at Atlanta just might have been the proof in the pudding that the teacher just might have a few tricks left up his sleeve he’s yet to let the student in on.

3.) With Richard Petty Motorsports no longer interested in Clint Bowyer, where will he go now?

A few weeks ago, Clint Bowyer to Richard Petty Motorsports all but seemed like a done deal. Bowyer had not re-signed with Richard Childress Racing, and both owner and driver had been talking about their relationship in the past tense. But just days ago, RPM announced they were no longer interested in Bowyer. Talk about the air being let out of an emotional balloon.

So where does this leave Bowyer now? Despite apparently having a multi-race deal with 5-hour Energy, there aren’t very many teams willing to enter the Clint Bowyer Sweepstakes.

Enter Michael Waltrip Racing, who actually has room to expand their operation to a third team. However, going from the RCR stable to the MWR group is truthfully, about like trading a Chevrolet Camaro for a Toyota Matrix in terms of the NASCAR pecking order. This year has not been too kind to Michael Waltrip Racing, with Martin Truex Jr. unable to catch a break and fellow MWR driver David Reutimann struggling for much of the season.

Really, one has to wonder how wise it would be for MWR to expand to a third car when their main two cars are struggling to even make the top 10. But, in the modern world of NASCAR, one thing talks, and that’s money. If Bowyer brings that along with talent, Waltrip cannot pass up an opportunity like this.

4.) Who’s the favorite to win the Chase?

While there are twelve drivers in the Chase at Chicagoland, it’s clear all roads to a championship are going to lead through Johnson. Johnson’s team has started to peak at just the right time and, despite the fact he only has one win this year, it looks as if Johnson can parlay the necessary consistency to get the job done. However, drivers such as Kyle Busch and Gordon are sure to give Johnson fits. Plus, Kenseth, Harvick, Edwards and Keselowski could have something to say about Johnson’s half-decade of domination.

As for the other drivers in the Chase? Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin have largely struggled this year so barring a modern-day miracle, it’s unlikely they will make any impact in the Chase. Kurt Busch has too many personal and professional distractions to be a serious threat, but he very well could try to take Johnson’s hopes for a “six-pack” down in the process.

Ryan Newman has had a fairly good season but lacks the overall consistency to be a serious threat and Dale Earnhardt Jr. likely will not be a contender for a championship, let alone a victory, except for perhaps Talladega, where he nearly won in the spring.

One thing is for sure. The next 10 races are sure to provide a great deal of excitement.

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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