Last weekend’s Auto Club 500 from Auto Club Speedway may have given us insight into who will be contending for the Chase, and then the championship later this season.
The two-mile, D shaped oval is an intermediate track — the kind of track that makes up the bulk of the season’s races. Teams that perform well at these tracks usually make the Chase or compete for the Chase spots.
While one could argue that Matt Kenseth’s Daytona 500 victory (although impressive), was a fluke, his victory in the Auto Club 500 has earned him a mention as one of the championship contenders.
Say what you want about the benefits of clean air on the Car of Tomorrow, Kenseth drove away from the field several times, and had an excellent pit road showing. Thus, he needs to be included in any championship talk this year.
Jeff Gordon, based on Sunday’s performance, may also be someone to think about in the championship race. Coming off a season where he did not visit Victory Lane once, you can expect him to be focused and determined, and, right now, he is driving like it. Look for him to be a contender at the end of the season.
Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards all had decent showings, and should contend for the Sprint Cup.
Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch are outside shots to make the Chase and contend for championships. I think it would be foolish to count them out, but I would like to see more consistency from those two teams, before I would say they are locks for Chase spots.
And, while neither one of their days ended how they wanted, I also expect Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr to contend for Chase spots. Harvick is usually quietly consistent. This year will be no different, but he will contend for a Chase spot. Earnhardt Jr’s engine went south, but before that he drove from his starting position in the back up to the top 15.
Normally 15th place is nothing to talk about, but Earnhardt has routinely struggled at this track, and his showing before heading to the garage is reason enough not to count him out.
Also, look for Brian Vickers to contend. His Red Bull Racing team has figured something out, and it’s only a matter of time before he wins a race. If he can keep out of trouble, he should be able to sneak into the Chase.
I’m not sure about Mark Martin or Jeff Burton. I’m not ready to discount them after two races, but Burton looked awful yesterday. He ran near the back all day and was never a factor. Martin was running well before engine problems ended his day. I think both have the potential to make the Chase, I’m just not sure either will.