Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to Win the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup

Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

In auto racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup is one of the most elite trophies devoted to the victor of the largest stock car racing series in the world. For the 8th season, the coveted honour of NASCAR's top series will be rewarded following a 10-race shootout between selected drivers.

Called the Chase for the Sprint Cup (or rather simply called the Chase), this modified playoff formula has underwent several adjustments since introduction in 2004. The 2011 edition presents the top-10 point earning drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series along with two drivers granted wild card spots. Wild card spots for 2011 are granted to Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin who were outside of the top-10 in points but won races. Despite the minor alternations made through the years, the Chase is won simply through one fashion; a driver needs to collect as many points as possible in the 10-race stretch.

The past five years, Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Hendrick Motorsports team mastered the task of collecting Chase round points. Similar to the style of Formula 1 greats Jackie Stewart and Alain Prost, Johnson ran the NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons with a dedicated focus on the Chase. For 26 races, #48 team counted points and always preserved enough points to secure a point berth. Once in the 10-race Chase, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Chevrolet race team has played a near perfect plan of scoring a high finishing average.

Similar to a scenario depicted in the new movie release Moneyball, many believe sports can be won by detecting patterns in the play of athletes. Entering the 2011 Chase, historical analysis of the past 7 champion runs presents a clue to what could be needed for this season's debut battle.

Average Finishes by NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Winners (2004-2010) Through 10 Races:

2004- 8.9 (Winner: Kurt Busch)
2005- 8.7 (Winner: Tony Stewart)
2006- 10.8 (Winner: Jimmie Johnson)
2007- 5 (Winner: Jimmie Johnson)
2008- 5.7 (Winner: Jimmie Johnson)
2009- 6.8 (Winner: Jimmie Johnson)
2010- 6.2 (Winner: Jimmie Johnson)

Average overall Chase finish: 7.44

Contrary to the duty of every driver, the object of the Chase is not to compete for race wins. Jimmie Johnson won the most races of a Chase champion with 4 victories in 2007. In 4 of the 7 championship runs, a driver record no more than 1 win during the 10-race stretch. In 2005, Tony Stewart's title was earned despite being winless in the Chase run.

This year, a major curve is thrown into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Chicagoland Speedway becoming the staging spot for the 10-race playoff. Replacing Auto Club Speedway inside the Chase, Chicagoland Speedway is holding NASCAR Sprint Cup races for its 10th season. 2011 Chase contender Kevin Harvick won the first two races at Chicagoland

Jimmie Johnson's average finish first in the 9 races he competed in at Chicagoland places the 5-time Sprint Cup champion for Hendrick Motorsports in 10th place effort. The following chart below represents the 12 Chase contending drivers record at Chicagoland Speedway races.

Races Run
Average Finish
Kyle Busch
Kevin Harvick
Jeff Gordon
Matt Kenseth
Carl Edwards
Kurt Busch
Jimmie Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr
Ryan Newman
Tony Stewart
Brad Keselowski
Denny Hamlin

With auto racing consisting of so many variables relating to the athletes in the stock car and on the pit road, there is also mechanical factors that come strictly in play. The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup will go to the driver that can hold low average finish. With the first race for the NASCAR Chase set to run at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, the number crunching will surround the sport as either a precursor to the future or obstacles to be shattered.

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