The law of averages says Jimmie Johnson will be a blowout winner in the 2008 chase for the Sprint Cup.
OK, maybe "law" is a strong word. And, to borrow a phrase from that great Western philosopher Bugs Bunny, it's not clear if Kyle Busch ever studied law.
Having no idea how the numbers would turn out, we decided to apply what history we could to this year's 10-race championship Chase. The idea was to use averages from the previous four years, which cover the entire history of the Chase.
We compiled the average finishes for each of this season's 12 championship contenders at the tracks where they'll race. Then, we figured the average finishes for the drivers at the same tracks since 2004.
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Then we gave the driver with the best average finish at, say, New Hampshire the points for the best Chase driver's average finish in each Chase race there. We go right down the list doing that for all the tracks and all the contenders and figure up who's where after each race.
Keep in mind, of course, that all of Kyle Busch's numbers were with Hendrick Motorsports, and he's hardly been “average” at anything this season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
In other words, if you want to take Jimmie Johnson and give us Kyle Busch and 750 points, just let us know where to sign up.
Chase race 1
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
This flat track has a history of being both very good and very costly to Chase contenders. Since the Chase started in 2004, championship players have finished 1-2-3 in every fall race at Loudon. At the same time, until last year, at least one Chase driver had finished 35th or worse in the playoff opener. Based on average finishes since 2004, Denny Hamlin gets the win with Matt Kenseth second and Kevin Harvick third. Kyle Busch, meanwhile, finishes 27th. Hamlin takes over the points lead by 13 over Jimmie Johnson and 18 over Carl Edwards. Busch drops from first to eighth.
Chase race 2
Dover International Speedway
Greg Biffle gets his first victory of the season. Carl Edwards is third and Jimmie Johnson is fourth, with Kyle Busch rebounding to finish seventh. Two weeks into the Chase, Edwards and Johnson are tied for first with Busch just 39 points back in third. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth are also within 50 points of first place.
Chase race 3
At a track that's traditionally been tough on Chase drivers, one of the competitors not in the playoff wins at Kansas Speedway for the third time in five years. Biffle remains hot, getting second, with Clint Bowyer third and Johnson fifth. Hamlin, however, finishes 30th and Busch winds up 34th.
That leaves Johnson 44 points ahead of Biffle atop the standings, with Edwards third, just four points behind Biffle.
Chase race 4
Harvick wins the race with Tony Stewart third and Hamlin fifth on a day when Talladega takes its usual toll on some of the championship contenders. Only five of the Chase drivers make the top 10, and three – Bowyer, Biffle and Busch – finish outside the top 30.
Johnson, who finishes 12th, sticks in the top spot with a 75-point edge over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who is still seeking his first win of the season. Edwards is tied with Kenseth for third 86 points out of the lead.
Chase race 5
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Harvick can't build on his Talladega momentum, finishing 33rd. Edwards picks up the victory and moves into second in the standings, but Johnson finishes second to minimize Edwards' gains. Jeff Burton is third with Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth.
Johnson's lead is now 79 points over Edwards and 132 over third-place Matt Kenseth. Busch has fallen 312 points back and is now 12th in the standings after a 27th-place finish.
Chase race 6
By edging teammate Gordon, Johnson threatens to make his bid for a third straight championship a runaway. Stewart is fourth and Hamlin is fifth, but Edwards stumbles to a 26th-place finish and loses big ground.
Kenseth is now up to second after finishing seventh, but he's 157 points back. Stewart is three behind Kenseth, with Gordon fourth, Hamlin fifth and Edwards back to sixth, 174 points behind the leader but only 17 points behind second place.
Chase race 7
Atlanta Motor Speedway
It's hard to catch a guy who keeps on winning. Johnson gets another victory and moves even further out front. Stewart's second-place finish keeps him at least in the same ZIP code as the two-time defending champion, but he's still 175 points back. Hamlin moves to third in the standings, with Edwards fourth and Gordon fifth. The big loser is Kenseth, who finishes 26th and falls to seventh in the standings, 262 points back.
Chase race 8
Texas Motor Speedway
With Johnson well out in front, the focus turns to who'll be second in the points. (Well, OK, the focus actually is on the NFL and college football by now with Johnson way out in front, but you get the point.) Kenseth wins at Texas, with Johnson finishing second. Hamlin is third and Stewart finishes fourth. Stewart now has a 16-point lead over Hamlin, and Kenseth is 62 behind Stewart.
Johnson? Oh, he's in first by 185 points now.
Chase race 9
Phoenix International Raceway
Johnson becomes the first driver to make the final race of the Chase officially a moot point, winning for the third time in four races to clinch the title. He'll go to Homestead with a 215-point lead and his third title already in hand.
Stewart finishes fifth and now has a 33-point lead on Hamlin for second. Gordon finishes second at Phoenix and now trails Stewart by 103.
Chase race No. 10
Johnson cruises in with an 11th-place finish and wins the title by 234 points over Stewart, who holds off Hamlin by just 11 points for second.
Busch finishes 38th to close out a disappointing Chase, finishing 765 points behind the winner.