I think the last ten races of 2013 have the potential to be some of this year's best yet, for a different reason -- the caliber of drivers who are NOT in the Chase.
That's right -- the caliber of drivers who are not in the Chase.
Any of the 12 drivers eligible for the Championship can win on any given weekend, and that's the reason they're in the Chase in the first place. We know that they'll be "all in" each week to bring home a victory.
However, this year probably yields the highest number of former Chase competitors and/or Chase contenders with something to prove:
Denny Hamlin: Give him back the four races and the associated points he missed earlier this year due to injuries suffered at California, and he might just well be in the Top 12. He has the same Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) equipment as do Kenseth and Kyle Busch, so we know that he can get the job done. When you don't have anything to lose, look out.
Brad Keselowski: For Brad, it all depends on which direction his momentum goes. If he reverts back to the mid-summer slump that took him out of Chase contention, he'll be around, but wont' accomplish too much. If, however, he has a Richmond-esque string of races, he will certainly look like the same BK that won last year's Championship.
Martin Truex, Jr.: He's pissed. He delivered gutsy, aggressive and workman-like performances the last two weeks at Atlanta and Richmond to drive his way into the Chase only to be penalized along with the rest of his Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) teammates and lose his spot within it. To add insult to injury, he did nothing wrong. He didn't (allegedly) spin his car intentionally to bring out a yellow-flag or collude within his own or other teams to manipulate the finishing order. All he did was race. Look for more of this, and look out.
Jeff Gordon: He's really pissed. He has every reason to be. The actions of MWR and the suspicions about Penske Racing (PRS) and driver David Gilliland also in collusion to manipulate the finish cost him a spot in the Chase. He feels he deserves to be in, and I don't disagree. A man on a mission is a man possessed, and Jeff still has it. Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) equipment doesn't hurt, either.
Also of note -- our last two series champions (Keselowski and Stewart) are not in the Chase this year. IF (and that's a big "if") Jimmie Johnson continues his struggles, the men who have captured the last seven titles won't be around this year and we'll have our first Champion since 2004 who isn't named Stewart, Johnson or Keselowski.
Let's get back on the track and have at it, boys !!
Note: Since this was originally written, NASCAR has added Jeff Gordon as a 13th Chase driver.