Best Chase Runs (Statistically Speaking), Nos. 10-6
10. KURT BUSCH, 2004
The best: Busch’s championship-winning Chase effort was bookended by a win in the opener at New Hampshire and the wheel falloff heard ‘round the world. His rally from three-wheel hell to Cup-hoisting glory set the tone for every Chase hereinafter. He finished eight of the 10 Chase races in sixth-place or better, averaging a finish of 8.9 and a earning a PEER of 4.850, a 3.215-point increase from his regular season productivity. And his competition for the crown consisted of heavy hitters at their best; Jimmie Johnson (5.400 PEER), Jeff Gordon (3.500 PEER) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (3.450 PEER) all gave Busch a legitimate run for his money.
The worst: If the loose wheel at Homestead was plenty enough reason for crew chief Jimmy Fennig to panic (he didn’t, as panic has never been in Fennig’s nature), a blown motor would obviously have sent this team to a downward emotional spiral. It happened at Atlanta, an engine failure that was, at the time, “catastrophic,” according to Busch. Lucikly, the No. 97 team overcame their few sniffs of adversity; that 42nd-place finish was the only real blemish on an otherwise sterling Chase.
9. CARL EDWARDS, 2011
The best: Edwards failed to win a race and still got a 4.9 average finish in this Chase. He was ridiculously productive with his 5.000 PEER, the highest rating in the history of the Chase that did not include a victory. His lowest finish was an 11th-place run at Talladega. The final three races were each runner-up finishes.
The worst: In 2011 Edwards was the best driver through the first 26 races. He was also the best driver through all 36. Unfortunately, he came up short in the final 10 events — that winless run came back to bite him — to Tony Stewart who amassed five victories during the Chase. This was a fine 10-race run by Edwards that, sadly, was not good enough for the title, something he lost to Stewart as the result of a tie-breaker decided by total wins. Edwards visited victory lane just once during the regular season.
The rest: The ramifications have been dire for Edwards. He and the No. 99 Roush Fenway team missed the Chase entirely in 2012, resulting in Bob Osborne — a crew chief with 60 Chase races under his belt — being removed from atop the pit box.
8. JIMMIE JOHNSON, 2010
The best: At first glance, this championship looks like a gift from the racing gods following Denny Hamlin’s epic collapse, but trust the numbers: Johnson earned his keep. He steamrolled through the 2010 Chase with a 5.150 PEER, up over two points from the 2.846 he earned during the regular season which was a poor 26-race stretch for the No. 48 Hendrick team (they earned a 65.38 Relevance). Johnson opened the Chase with a 25th-place finish but quickly rattled off nine finishes of ninth or better including a win at Dover.
The worst: Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus miscalculated the Magic Mile, starting and finishing 25th at New Hampshire and were forced to play from behind up until the finale at Homestead. But that’s picking nits. Johnson and team got the finish they desired.
The rest: It’s when Four-Time became Five-Time, a history-making run that separated Johnson from the shadow of four-time champ Jeff Gordon. By his standards, it was not a pretty run, but the come-from-behind attack on the title in 2010 still sufficed as the eighth best in the first eight years of the Chase.
7. JIMMIE JOHNSON, 2004
The best: Kurt Busch took home the title, but Johnson glowed in the first ever Chase, registering a PEER of 5.400 after winning four times. The victories came in the final six races of the Chase at Charlotte, Martinsville, Atlanta and Darlington.
The worst: He lost by eight points; Busch, who began the Chase 25 points behind him, bested him by 33 points during the 10-race stretch. Whereas Busch suffered just one slip (the engine failure at Atlanta), Johnson had two: a motor blow at Talladega and an accident at Kansas. Had Busch not recovered from his lost wheel and near accident at Homestead, Johnson would have been in the catbird’s seat for the title, finishing second in the finale.
The rest: This was, unofficially, the No. 48 team’s warning shot to the rest of the Cup Series for future years. His chance at the championship during this edition of the Chase was marred by the incidents at Talladega and Kansas, but that final six-race run was dizzying.
6. JEFF GORDON, 2007
The best: Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson for the championship in a year where they combined for 16 wins? Isn’t this the showdown everyone wanted? Gordon gave his protégé a heck of a fight, earning a 5.700 PEER thanks to a two-win, nine-top-10 finish Chase showing. His wins came at Talladega (one position ahead of Johnson) and Charlotte. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is Gordon’s finest Chase performance.
The worst: Johnson doubled Gordon’s win total and vanquished the four-time champion by 77 points under the old scoring format. The closest thing to a slip by Gordon and the No. 24 team was an 11th-place finish at Dover, but when Johnson produced as well as he did (more on this later in the series) that slip turned out to be a fatal gash.
The rest: 2007 was Gordon’s last truly great year, fitting in the torch-passing feeling this Chase provided. The No. 24 team has since failed to perform at a level as high as this, but the lasting memory of an old school, new money champion punching with the latest, greatest heavyweight will last forever.
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