Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set, but there are no sure things

Updated Sep 13, 2015 at 10:41a ET

Richmond, Va. —

So, early Friday evening at Richmond International Raceway, I asked Matt Kenseth if he thought anyone other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske had a shot at winning Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400.

This is what he told me: "I hope not (laughter). Qualifying here is one thing and racing is totally different. Even through practice today, it's a hot, sunny day and assuming hopefully we race tomorrow night then track conditions will be a lot different than they were today. I always feel like you never really know what you're going to have when you get in the race here.

"For me, it's always a surprise," Kenseth continued. "Sometimes a good one and sometimes a bad one, but I never went to bed here on Friday night sure of what I had for Saturday really until you get racing. You never know what's going to happen here."

And then, boom.

Saturday at RIR, Kenseth went out and led 352 of 400 laps to head a JGR 1-2 sweep, with Joey Logano finishing third in a Penske Ford. All six of the JGR and Penske cars finished in the top 11 and the two elite squads have now combined to win the last nine Sprint Cup races and 15 of 26 on the season.

All of which means this year's version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup is going to be a total runaway, right?

Not so fast.

The whole thing about the Chase is that it's unpredictable. All you have to do is look at the history.

In 2004, only his fourth full season in the Sprint Cup Series, Kurt Busch won the championship after entering the Chase as the No. 7 of 10 seeds.

Who would have ever imagined that in 2011, Tony Stewart would go 0-for-26 with just three top-five finishes and then win five of the 10 Chase races and his third championship? Stewart didn't even believe he stood a chance and yet he did it.

For that matter, Ryan Newman was winless all of last year and came within a whisker of winning it all. And nobody, but nobody, predicted Newman would ever make it to the final round, but not only was he racing for a title, he nearly stole it.

But the year I'm really intrigued by is 2005. That year, Roush Fenway Racing was coming off consecutive championship seasons in 2003-04. As a team in 2005, they won 11 of the 26 Sprint Cup regular-season races, the same exact number as Joe Gibbs Racing has won this year.

In a 10-driver Chase field, Roush Fenway had five of the drivers, or 50 percent. JGR has four of 16, or 25 percent this year.

In the 2005 Chase, Roush Fenway drivers won four of the 10 races.

And none of the team's five drivers managed to win the championship. That's just how things happen in the Chase. There are no sure things, no matter what.

Last week, I wrote several articles explaining why there was virtually no chance of a first-time winner at Richmond, and Saturday night's results proved my point: Eight of the top nine finishers in the Federated Auto Parts 400 were guys who've already won this year.

But now, the playoff season starts and it's a wholly different animal. With three elimination rounds, even the best drivers and fastest cars can be knocked out of title contention by a single bad race, as Kyle Busch was last year at Talladega and Jeff Gordon was at Texas.

Don't believe me? Just ask team owner Joe Gibbs, the winning owner on Saturday night at Richmond and the guy who's won seven of the last nine races.

"It's been a lot of hard work, but I'm thrilled where we are," Gibbs said after Kenseth's victory. "Now the problem is, I think for the next three weeks I'll be ready to throw up at any minute. That's the bottom line."

Yes, it is, which is what makes the Chase so much fun.

So stay tuned for 10 weeks of chaos. It's about to get real.

And while there are some obvious favorites, nothing is a done deal at the moment.

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