August 29, 2011
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 1-8 are fairly set, let's work from positions 9 downward. And we start with a near-certainty:
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. With a 60-point lead on 11th place, he's fairly safe as long as he remembers to show up at both races. We'll have more to say about him later. Chase chances: All but certain. Breathe, Junior Nation.
10. Tony Stewart. Trouble, trouble, trouble and more trouble. He's only 21 points clear of Brad Keselowski and 22 ahead of Clint Bowyer, which either driver could, in theory, make up over the next two races. Chase chances: Not looking good.
And then it gets interesting ...
11. Brad Keselowski. Until Bristol, we wouldn't have said that Keselowski had any chance of catching Stewart. But here we are, and Keselowski has a better-than-average chance of running down Smoke ... which would throw everything into tumult. Why? Because then another wild-card berth is back in play. Chase chances: Obviously in; top 10 looking good.
12. Clint Bowyer. He missed a perfect chance to run down Stewart this week, but his best track looms large in the future at Richmond. And, here's a quirk, he could get in even without a win if Paul Menard or David Ragan can't get into the top 20. Chase chances: Unlikely but not inconceivable.
13. Denny Hamlin. Holding on to the wild card almost by default. He should be able to make it through to the end like an action hero landing a burning plane to a skidding stop. But he'll need to be watching the 33 for the next two weeks. Chase chances: Likely, like it or not.
20. Paul Menard. He's given away chance after chance to make the Chase, but could still qualify if Keselowski manages to get into the top 10. See also: David Ragan (21), Marcos Ambrose (22). Chase chances: Highly unlikely.
Top 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski
Wild card: Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin
And now, your turn. Who's in? Who's going to fall out? Have your say!
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