With only three races left until the Chase, let's take a look at the contenders and the pretenders for both the top 10 and the wild card. Since positions 1-7 are fairly set, let's work from positions 8 downward. And we start with a surprising face:
8. Kurt Busch. What the - ? What's Busch doing here? Another surprisingly bad run has left him in, if not a precipitous position, at least a nerve-wracking one. Busch had said in recent interviews that he'd be comfortable with a two-race (86-point) lead on 11th place. He's currently 52 points up on Clint Bowyer. Likelihood of making the Chase: All but certain.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. There's a hack old joke about two guys getting chased by a bear. One guy says to the other, "How are we going to outrun this bear?" Other guy says, "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you." Junior is now that other guy. He doesn't have to win races, he just has to finish ahead of Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and/or Clint Bowyer. So far, so good. Likelihood of making the Chase: Very likely.
10. Tony Stewart. Even if Smoke makes the Chase, he doesn't think much of his chances once he gets there. He's only 24 points ahead of Bowyer, which means Rawhide needs only to run eight places better than Stewart over the next three races to match him. That's doable, which should concern Stewart fans greatly. Likelihood of making the Chase: Fairly likely.
11. Clint Bowyer. Bowyer's in the win-and-you're-in position, so he's going to be running all-out for the checkers. But if he can pile up more top-10 finishes, he can gain ground on Stewart heading into Richmond ... which just happens to be one of Bowyer's best tracks. Likelihood of making the Chase: Long shot.
13. Greg Biffle. Unbelievably, Biffle very nearly vaulted himself from irrelevancy to a Chase spot in Michigan before falling deep into the field. He still sits ahead of Hamlin in the standings, which means he could push Hamlin straight out of the Chase with a last-ditch win. Michigan was one of his best tracks, but Bristol is even better. It's now or never for The Biff. Likelihood of making the Chase: Very long shot, but not impossible.
1. Brad Keselowski. With two wins and a solid 12th place rank in the standings, he's all but certain to take one of the two wild cards. Likelihood of making the Chase: Almost certain.
2. Denny Hamlin. He still holds the wild card, but as noted above, it's under siege. He can't afford any more mechanical failures, as Paul Menard is now just 18 points behind. Likelihood of making the Chase: Likely.
3. Paul Menard. The opportunity is there; Menard just has to cut Hamlin's lead, race by race. It's tough but doable, particularly if Hamlin falters early at Bristol. Likelihood of making the Chase: Unlikely.
4. David Ragan. He's fought his way back into the top 20, which is the first step. Now he just needs to win another race. Simple, right? Likelihood of making the Chase: Highly unlikely.
Projected into Chase top 10: Busch, Earnhardt, Bowyer
Projected wild card: Keselowski, Hamlin
So there you have our take. And yours?
- Clint Bowyer
- Denny Hamlin
- Tony Stewart