When the Challengers were reduced down to the Contenders, the intensity went up. From 16 to 12 drivers, the Chase pressure began to increase ever so slightly. What makes this round more intriguing right away is there is no one above another. Wins meant higher seeds in the first round, meaning some already had an advantage to start.
Not anymore. Now, the only way to gain an advantage is to simply finish higher than the others. Win, the pressure is off because a quest for a championship is still going to happen.
This season, the Contender Round starts at home base, NASCAR’s main headquarters, in Charlotte. A year ago, tempers, and sheet metal, got bent out of shape both on the track, on pit road, and even through the garage area. Voices were raised, and headlocks were put on, and it showed how much this championship means to every driver that is going for it.
The pressure to perform and to move on is hard enough, but trying to keep emotions in check is going to be even harder.
The Pool writers alone know this kind of pressure, as after last week’s stunner, two writers now are just in it for the fun of it. The other eight, they still have a title on the line. Meaning they must continue their ways of different picks each week, and once they win, they too are locked into the next round.
That being said, here’s who they all decided will win the opening race in the Contender Round, the Bank of America 500:
Misan Akuya: Kurt Busch
Can’t let Kevin Harvick have all the fun can he? The elder Busch has been strong on the mile and a half the whole year.
Rob Blount: Kevin Harvick
No reason given.
Mary Jo Buchanan: Kasey Kahne
Going with a non-Chaser.
Kara Martin: Jimmie Johnson
No reason given.
Ashley McCubbin: Matt Kenseth
The Joe Gibbs Racing cars have been quick all year long on the 1.5 mile tracks so expect Kenseth to be at the front of the field once again.
Klarissa Mitchell: Jamie McMurray
No reason given.
Dustin Parks: Kevin Harvick
I’m going with the momentum. Won this race a year ago, dominated last week, and is bringing a familiar car to run at this joint. I like those odds. Sure, could have used him at a later time, but only way I will now is if I’m out of the title hunt.
Patti Rodisch: Jimmie Johnson
Yea, he is not in the Chase but this is still his house.
Sal Sigala Jr: Jimmie Johnson
You live by the sword and you die by the sword. I have to stick with my game plan even though he is eliminated.
Rob Tiongson: Kyle Busch
Have to think it could be a Rowdy kind of Columbus Day weekend celebration at Charlotte. Hey, I tried!
Contender Round after Dover:
Sal Sigala Jr. (3000) Denny Hamlin finished 18th – 3
Patti Rodisch (3000) Martin Truex Jr. finished 11th – 4
Dustin Parks (3000) Denny Hamlin finished 18th – 3
Kara Martin (3000) Denny Hamlin finished 18th – 2
Rob Tiongson (3000) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 4
Ashley McCubbin (3000) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 1
Misan Akuya (3000) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 2
Mary Jo Buchanan (3000) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 1
Rob Blount (2073) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 2
Klarissa Mitchell (2046) Jimmie Johnson finished 41st – 0
Final Remarks: Each writer has a different strategy of when to pick their driver, just like each driver has a different strategy of what their teams’ strength will be in each round. In the Contender Round, two tracks are 1.5 miles in length, but are two distinctly different designs, and two different ways of driving them.
This is the bulk of the Chase to begin with, so if a team has been strong here all season, they will play to those strengths now.
Round two of the Chase begins tonight at 7 p.m. ET.
Summary of Picks: