Marshall’s Mind Blog: Spoiler Alert; Drivers Who Could Crash the Chase Grid Before Season’s End

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Blog by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Jared Tilton/Getty Images North America photo – It’s bound to happen during a 10 race span.

It’s inevitable.

There’s going to be at least one race where a non-Chase driver is able to capture a triumph and outrun the favorites. It’s now a simple question: which non-Chaser and at what circuit?

Backing up a second, though.

I just want to prove how probable it is that a non-Chase competitor will be able to surge past 16 top drivers and crash a Chase Grid party en route to a Victory Lane celebration.

Last season it was Brad Keselowski (at Charlotte), Jamie McMurray (at Talladega) and Denny Hamlin (at Homestead) that were the ineligible championship drivers who applied the spoiler role and triumphed in the 10 race stretch-run. It’s going to happen, there is nothing to avoid that.

Again though the questions remains: which driver(s) and at what track(s)?

With how erratic this season has been, it’s difficult to predict what could happen in the closing weeks — however given the past stats and recent momentum, here’s three potential spoilers to monitor in the final nine Chase races.

Clint Bowyer

It’s a shocker that 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Clint Bowyer was unable to slip into the Chase Grid and has been held winless with eight races remaining this season. However, the Emporia, Kansas competitor could be a good bid for spoiler in this stretch run — beginning at Charlotte.

Bowyer has triumphed in one Chase race at Charlotte (in 2012 driving for MWR) and has added one other top five finish when piloting Richard Childress Racing’s No. 07 (in 2007).

Just those simple facts prove that Bowyer’s No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota could be a spoiler in the Bank of America 500 next month, but there’s more.

It’s obvious that multiple things have altered since Bowyer’s win in 2007 and even his top five result, making it hard to believe he would be a contender there – that would be a flawed assumption though.

Bowyer started fifth at Charlotte earlier this season and appeared to be a threat for a top-10 running before he got caught behind the eight ball on pit sequence and concluded in the 17th position.

It appears doable based upon those stats, and come the fifth round we could be observing the spoilers quest towards ‘taking over’ begin. My vote is for Clint Bowyer to start the spoiling with a win in NASCAR’s backyard at Charlotte.

Jamie McMurray

2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray has been close to wins on multiple occasions this season but he’s been unable to put together an entire race – something that’s a must in order to win in the Sprint Cup Series – however with Talladega upcoming, the Joliet, Missouri has to have winning and spoiling the Chase Grid on his mind.

Piloting Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October, McMurray utilized a caution on the white flag to grasp the win in the Camping World RV Sales 500 at ‘Dega, beating out restrictor plate veteran Dale Earnhardt Jr. — not an easy task for anyone.

Leading 32 laps at ‘Dega (in 2009), McMurray was also able to take Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 26 Ford to Victory Lane and spoil the Chase lineup again.

It’s simple to claim that restrictor plate races – especially Talladega – are crap shoots and unpredictable. And I would agree – to an extent. It’s just hard to ignore and not acknowledge Jamie Mac’s four career victories on this circuit.

The second spoiler pairing in this Chase — Jamie Mac wins Talladega for the second year in a row.

Tony Stewart

It’s the summer months – a time that Smoke is a usual sight in Victory Lane – and three-time Sprint Cup Series champion and Stewart-Haas Racing driver Tony Stewart is looking to heat up in the final eight races and overcome an agonizing winless drought to play the spoiler once again.

He’s done it before — three times in fact, at Texas, Kansas and Atlanta when he missed the Chase in 2006 — and Stewart is hoping for a similar fate in 2014.

After unforeseen circumstances took Stewart from Chase contention it is become evident that the cure to his problems will be to dominate Martinsville in October – like in seasons past – and sail into the winners circle with satisfaction and reassurance that he can still get it done heading towards the off-season.

Stewart has three wins (in 2000, 2006 and 2011) at Martinsville alongside five separate top fives finishes and has been declared a threat when heading to the ‘Paper Clip’.

Smoke’s led 1208 laps during his tenure at the Virginia short track and has failed to finish just once (in 2001) when his engine was unable to continue.

And those are just basic tidbits.

With the judgment decided upon his involvement in Kevin Ward Jr.’s death it seems that fumes are igniting and the winners circle is about to overflow with Smoke – no pun intended.

 

And oh by the way, I may not have placed him among my three driver/track combinations, but that’s because I don’t know where this win could come — only that it’s a safe bet. Kyle Larson’s finished third and second in the two Chase races so far. Does that mean he finishes first this weekend? I have no idea. But he’s a threat somewhere, and we’ll find out exactly where in the weeks to come.

That’s the stats. The reality though? It’s going to be a whole lot stranger. Let’s sit back and see how it plays out.

Because — spoiler alert — it’s going to be exciting no matter what.

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