This weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway, the Party in the Poconos 400, settled one thing for most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fans. Five-time championship winner Jimmie Johnson will be the dominant driver heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season after the second Richmond race later this year. It is quite clear that unless disaster upon disaster occurs to the No. 48 team, they will be at the top of the points standings at the end of NASCAR’s “regular season.”
So, if this fact is settled after Johnson’s dominating performance in the Poconos this week, then who will be his biggest challenger when the Chase begins and the top twelves points are reset besides their Chase bonus points earned by winning races (of which Johnson now has three wins worth of)?
Well, lets qualify some of the usual suspects that would usually be challenging for the Cup in 2013. First you have Brad Keselowski the reigning champ. Keselowski gave Johnson some serious competition last year and then Johnson was felled by his own car malfunctions at Phoenix and Homestead. This year, though, Keselowski is still winless and is having a hard time just keeping himself in the Chase. Don’t expect him to repeat unless this team gets seriously hot before the Chase.
Then we have Matt Kenseth who many have predicted would win it all this year the way he has been running in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. He even got to three wins before Johnson. Unfortunately, he has been plagued by bad luck and equipment problems that have kept him from rising to the runner-up position to challenge Johnson. Don’t expect that to change in the Chase where the JGR drivers are infamous for falling apart.
Finally, lets look at the current runner-up to Johnson in the points Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards. After a disastrous 2012 season, Edwards has seriously turned it around this year starting with a win in week two at Phoenix. Since then he has been very solid on the track, which has took him up the standings, but what he has’t gotten is another win. Edwards should know more than anyone else just how necessary wins are in the Chase after losing to Tony Stewart in a tie-breaker because Stewart had more wins. to be a serious contender he will have to make a few more trips to victory lane.
The runner-up position in the points is still relatively fluid and anyone in the top ten could still get hot and take the spot away from Edwards. There is no way to know exactly who will be challenging Johnson the hardest come Chase time.