The 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup is now 40 percent complete and, with his 7th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Brad Keselowski now has a 14-point lead over the five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. A wide margin of 23 points separate Keselowski and Chase-favorite Denny Hamlin back in 3rd–or, as the announcers like to say, one half of a race.
It’s probably too early to name a champion, as we do have six full races left on the schedule (six-and-a-half for Hamlin), but barring some kind of catastrophic happening, the Penske driver of the Blue Deuce should be holding that elusive trophy in Homestead in late November. And here’s why: the Chase was decided last Sunday at Talladega.
After the wreck-fest that ended the Good Sam 500 last weekend, the only Chaser to make it across the finish line safely–among those with a reasonable shot at the championship (sorry Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, and Greg Biffle)–was Brad Keselowski, who came home in 7th. Flashback to 2011 and you’ll remember that eventual champion Tony Stewart also finished 7th in the Talladega Chase race. Coincidence? Maybe. But then I did some more research.
During his five-year stretch of championships, from 2006 to 2010, Jimmie Johnson finished in the following places at the second Talladega race: 24th, 2nd, 9th, 6th, and 7th. Tony Stewart, who won the 2006 Cup championship, finished 2nd at Talladega during the Chase, and in the inaugural year of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, Kurt Busch wound up 8th in the Chase race at the track.
That leaves one number: 8.1–the average finish of the eventual championship winner at Talladega Superspeedway’s race in the Chase. This certainly is a good sign for Brad Keselowski, who exploded onto the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series scene in 2011 and has proven this season that he belongs in the “elite” category of drivers. It’s now up to him to finish this season out and bring home that championship at the end of the year.