The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has shown some surprises in qualifying, racing and winning. As the Chase for the Sprint Cup heats up the typical names are still in the top ten in Sprint Cup points, but some drivers like Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are still hovering outside the top ten and holding, hoping for some great finishes or enough wins to qualify them for the 2011 Chase.
Tony Stewart is 12th in points just one point behind Denny Hamlin and four points behind his team car driven by Ryan Newman. Stewart has been unable to get the job done and put a notch in the win column for 2011 and this may hamper his championship hopes for 2011. Hamlin, as well as three other drivers have been able to get a win, although Hamlin is the only driver with enough pointsfor Stewart to worry about right now. David Ragan, Brad Keselowski and Regan Smith have all garnered wins, but have not had enough consistency to keep them within striking distance with points though another win for any of the three could make a difference.
For Tony Stewart, all he needs to do is worry about himself. One win would put him in contention for a wildcard spot in the Chase for the Championship, but that win could also give him the points to gain a place in the top ten in points. At this point in the season consistency is the key point that has escaped Stewart and his #14 team.
Sitting within striking distance of Tony Stewart are four drivers within six points of each other. Greg Biffle, JP Montoya, AJ Allmendinger and Paul Menard are all having "decent" seasons as compared to years past and all have had about as much consistency as Tony Stewart this season. Any one driver may capitalize on strong motors or decent handling, but will need others drivers to falter to gain any significant points for the championship. Both Greg Biffle and JP Montoya have wins in Sprint Cup competition while Allmendinger and Menard are both on track to have their best seasons in Sprint Cup competitions and have shown glimmers of hope for their first wins to come this season.
The Chase for the 2011 Sprint Cup is definitely heating up. Going into the inaugural race at Kentucky Speedway, the last five spots remain up in the air. NASCAR's new emphasis on winning may cause one win to make the difference between qualifying for the Chase or falling just short.