After one of the most exciting run-ups to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, what does NASCAR do for an encore?
An even more exciting Chase, of course.
And given how the field stacks up after the points were reset following Saturday's race at Richmond, that's exactly what we may have when the 10th edition of the Chase begins this coming Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Given all the movement in the standings once the reset button was pushed, picking one driver to win it all is a rough exercise. Virtually every one of the 12 Chase entrants has motivation to wind up being No. 1.
Matt Kenseth is looking to wrap up his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing with his second Cup title—and first since he won the last championship (2003) before the Chase came into being in 2004.
Jimmie Johnson has had unprecedentedly horrible in the last four races. He comes into the Chase with zero momentum. What does he do to fix that? Dominate in the Chase, of course.
Kevin Harvick is also motivated. He's in his final 10 races for Richard Childress Racing before moving next season to Stewart-Haas Racing. What would it say if Harvick won the title in his last go-round at RCR and then heads to SHR as the defending Cup champ?
Carl Edwards came oh-so-close in 2011, tying Tony Stewart for the championship, only to lose in the tiebreaker (total wins). Then, Edwards failed to make the Chase last year. You don't think he wants to finish what he just missed in 2011?
Joey Logano has had an incredible run the last four races, not just to make the Chase, but to also start tied for sixth with the points reset. And with teammate and defending champ Brad Keselowski failing to qualify for the Chase, Penske Racing's hopes of a second straight Cup title are squarely on Logano's shoulders.
There's Kurt Busch, who made history Saturday by becoming the first driver from a single-car team to make the Chase. If there's a true wild-card in this field to emerge and win it all, it's the driver of the No. 78 Chevy.
But there's one driver who, in my opinion, is the man to beat—and it's about time, given all the expectations that have been placed upon him over the last five-plus years.
Unless he has yet another run of bad luck in the Chase as he has had in previous playoff outings, the man to beat—the favorite of favorites—is Kyle Busch.
The driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing has been prophesized numerous times to win the Cup crown, but he has always fallen short.
But something tells me that in the same year that the Snake is the symbol of the Chinese New Year, the younger Busch brother is the symbol of the driver who'll win it all to wrap up NASCAR's year.
Think of it, Kyle Busch has flown under the radar most of the season. He's stayed out of trouble both on and off the racetrack.
He also appeared to rededicate himself to his racing craft this year—with outstanding results not only on the Cup side of things (four wins, 11 top-fives and 15 top-10s), but also on the Nationwide (nine wins and 16 top-fives in 19 starts) and Truck (three wins and six top-fives in seven starts) Series circuits.
If ever there was a year to be Kyle Busch's, this is the year.
Sure, Kenseth and Johnson will be formidable opponents, especially with Kenseth being Busch's teammate. And you can't discount older brother Kurt or Edwards or Clint Bowyer.
But if Kyle can do what Kyle does best—namely, race like no other driver can—the extremely talented Busch will have a great homecoming in early December when NASCAR holds its annual awards banquet in Busch's hometown of Las Vegas.
Sweetening the pie even more would be a one-two Busch brothers finish in the Chase, something that is very possible given the way Kurt has performed this season, as well (even though admittedly he hasn't won a race yet).
Granted, there's plenty of qualified drivers who can win this year's Sprint Cup championship, but unless he goes back to his bad habits and past bad luck, Kyle Busch is our pick to win it all this year.
Agree? Disagree? Let's hear your thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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