Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hot water in Hotlanta and picks

It's hard to imagine being too busy to go to the White House if the President calls and asks for your attendance. Whether you agree with his policies or not, if you are too busy to meet the President, unless you are a regular at the White House, then maybe you are just too busy.
But that's the way it is in NASCAR these days. So, when the President invited five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and the rest of last year's qualifiers for the Chase of the Championship, all of the 12 could not make it.
It didn't have as much to do with politics as it did with economics. Drivers are often locked into special appearances for key sponsors, or potential sponsors, months ahead of time. So, if they have to cancel one of those appearances for anything less than a death in the family, it could very likely cost them financing for a ride in the short-term or long-term. So, sometimes you just do what have to do, even if it means turning down the President.
Many Sprint Cup drivers are concerned with the short-term, especially with just two races left in NASCAR's regular season. The top 10 in points are guaranteed a spot in the Chase, or NASCAR's playoffs, and the final two Chase spots go to the drivers with the most wins in the top 20 in points.
The first race is Sunday night in Atlanta.
Here's a quick look at how the chase to get into THE CHASE looks.
These guys are already in: Kyle Busch, Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
That leaves six spots still up for grabs, sort of.
Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch are all but in. Newman is in if he finishes 20th or 21st and leads a lap or 22nd with the most laps led. Kurt Busch is in if he finishes seventh, eighth with one lap led or ninth with the most laps led. Any of those scenarios would put them 49 points ahead going into the final race at Richmond next Saturday night.
The two on the bubble, sitting in ninth and 10th place are Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. They each could leave Atlanta with spots in the Chase, but would need some help. Junior is 39 points ahead of 11th and Stewart is 21 points ahead of 11th. But neither of them have a win, so they don't have a wild-card spot to fall back on.
Which brings us to the ... wild card.
Brad Keselowski has three wins this season and sits in 11th in points. Unless he has two complete disasters at Atlanta and Richmond and falls out of the top 20 in points, he'll make the Chase.
The final spot going into Atlanta belongs to Denny Hamlin. He's 13th in points, but has that win that 12th place holder Clint Bowyer does not. If Bowyer happens to win in Atlanta, then it would make next Saturday night at Richmond interesting on several levels.
In an entirely different matter, if Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard or Marcus Ambrose win at Atlanta there are going to be some happy people. As part of the Sprint Summer Showdown, they would split $3 million with one third going to driver, one third to the driver's chosen charity and one third going to a lucky fan who predicted an earlier victory. Since Keselowski won twice, two fans would split a million. Still not a bad deal.
So with that in mind, here are this week's picks.

Brad Keselowski - He's on a real roll and could make two people $500,000 closer to being millionaires.
Kyle Busch - He's confident and seems ready to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the title.
Jimmie Johnson - Just when we start talking about him being ready to relinquish his crown, he reminds us he's still champion.
Tony Stewart - Desperate for a win, he may gamble late if it means a guaranteed spot in the Chase.
Kurt Busch - Always a threat in Hotlanta.
Until next time

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