NASCAR's Sprint Cup drivers are gearing up for the 2013 Chase, which is only five weeks away.  Is Jimmie Johnson poised to win yet again?  #48 fans sure hope so. 

It's crunch time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup 2013 season as we approach the Race for the Chase playoffs.  There are only five races left before the playoffs.  Twelve drivers will qualify to participate in the ten-race Chase and while several are virtual locks for the playoff run, the rest of the field is wide open. 

Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

The stretch run begins in our own backyard on Sunday as the circuit travels to Watkins Glen to race on the legendary road course there.  Then the drivers are off to Michigan’s fast two-mile oval before shifting gears to Bristol’s tiny concrete half-mile track.  The final two qualifiers will be at Atlanta (1.5-mile intermediate track) and the three-quarter-mile track in Richmond. 

I think this will be a wild ride as long shot drivers will shoot for a win in an effort to nail down one of the two wildcard slots which are primarily based upon win totals instead of points.  As the pressure continues to heat up on the track, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1   Jimmie Johnson continues to dominate.  He’s first in points, tied for first in wins, and he could sit out an entire race and still remain first in points.  I think the transition to the new car has helped Jimmie and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, get some separation from the field.  They have always been masters of the technical aspects of the sport and I'm not at all surprised to see them ahead of the learning curb with the Gen6 car.  They sure look like they are on their way to championship number six.  However, the whole Hendricks organization is strong and if the Chase started today all four of the Hendricks cars would be in it.

Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images  

Carl Edwards, my favorite driver,  is in great shape to make the playoffs as he has a win and is currently third in points.  However, it is clear that he and his Roush teammates are just quite simply not as fast as Johnson.  Carl says his team is experimenting with set-ups during this five week period.  They are willing to accept a slide in the standings if they can come up with some data that will help them narrow the gap with Johnson during the Chase.

Carl is my guy and I hope he can find something for Jimmie.  An Edwards vs. Johnson battle royal, Ford vs. Chevrolet, would be a ton of fun!

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

  And finally, my Danica Patrick update.   She is 27th in points and not a Chase factor.  However, I would say she is about where you would expect her to be based upon her experience with stockcars.  She has taken a few shots in recent weeks, most prominently when Kyle Petty doubted her potential as a racecar driver.    Unfortunately, the reality is that Danica is the most recognizable and the most marketable figure in North American motorsports.  She has to produce numbers and finishes that justify that or she will be perceived as a failure.  Ultimately, the media and marketing buzz that surrounds Danica may just set the bar too high for her (or anyone except Johnson).  

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Still, I think that things may get better for her.  Her organization is on a bit of a surge right now with teammates Stewart and Ryan Newman both running well as of late.  At least until Stewart broke his leg Monday night in a dirt track race.  Also, all three of them drive essentially Hendricks equipment so the technical support will be strong.  Plus, Patrick  showed in her Nationwide apprenticeship that she can make rapid improvement with experience.

Let's go racing!

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images