Plenty of storylines in Chase
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on September 18, 2009 1:46 PM
From a three-time defending champion, arguably the hottest driver in the sport right now, a driver with plenty to gain or lose and two first-time entrants, NASCAR's 2009 Chase for the Cup has no shortage of variety.
This is who to watch in this year's Chase:
* Plenty to lose: Kurt Busch enters the Chase with perhaps more to lose than any of the other 11 Chase drivers. With crew chief Pat Tryson leaving at the end of the season to work with Martin Truex Jr., Busch could find making the Chase in 2010 to be difficult while trying to click with a new crew chief.
Penske Racking could likely be the only Dodge team in 2010, meaning less information coming from teammates for Busch to rely on. Getting the job done now with a potentially frustrating season on the horizon is imperative for the eldest Busch brother.
* Still the king: Three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson has won an astounding 14 of 50 Chase races. However, he's won just three races this season after winning a combined 17 in the past two years. Despite an average finish of 20th in the past five races, Johnson still possesses the ability to be the best driver on the track in any given race.
This isn't the guy you want coming into the Chase. Johnson has to be hungry after not recording a top-five finish since winning at Indy in July.
* Turning point: Formerly the third or fourth race in the Chase, Talladega has been pushed back to seventh. This leaves little recovery time if a Chase driver gets caught up in an accident here. The points lead has changed at Talladega two of the past five years.
* Dangerous Denny: Hamlin enters the Chase as the sport's hottest driver after reeling off six consecutive top-10s, including two victories. He finally sealed the deal in a win at Richmond last week just miles from where he grew up after struggling to win at his hometown track in the past.
Hamlin posted only one top-five finish earlier this year at the eight tracks in the Chase playoff where the series has already run. Improving on this stat will be the key to his success.
* New kids: Chase first-timers Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers aren't likely to play the role of Cinderella, but don't count them out of strong finishes this season. Vickers has finished 12th or better in the last nine races.
Montoya has 12 top-10s this year, but just two top fives. He'll need to steal a win or two in order to stay competitive in the Chase.