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Chase clinching scenarios for Bristol

NASCAR.com

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With three races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set, Jimmie Johnson remains the only driver to have clinched a berth in the postseason.

Johnson did so after finishing eighth at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 11, so no matter where he finishes the rest of the season, he's in. And given the fact that the field is reset based on number of wins, Johnson -- who has visited Victory Lane four times this season -- could earn the top seed.

No drivers clinched a Chase spot in a wild week at Michigan, although several drivers helped their causes. Kevin Harvick gained ground on those outside the top 10 in the standings by finishing second and Kurt Busch entered the top 10 with his third-place outing.

Below is a breakdown of who could qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Magic number: 97 points

Following Saturday night's race at Bristol, any driver in the top 10 of the points standings with a 97-point lead over the 11th-place driver will automatically clinch a berth in the Chase. For perspective: Clint Bowyer (772 points, second place) currently leads Kasey Kahne (659 points, 11th place) by 113 points.

Eligible drivers

The top 10 drivers in the standings after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond receive an automatic entry into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

? Clint Bowyer. Bowyer is the driver most likely driver to clinch on Saturday night, thanks in part to his fifth-place effort at Michigan last week. Bowyer didn't have his best car that day -- and he actually spun out on Lap 1 -- but rallied to gain points on nearly every driver below him.

So, what's good enough to clinch a Chase berth at Bristol? If Bowyer finishes 12th or better, or 13th with at least one lap led (for one bonus point), or 14th with the most laps led (for two bonus points), he clinches a top-10 automatic spot.

Bowyer could still clinch a top-10 spot if he finishes worse than 14th, depending on where other drivers finish. Brad Keselowski (eighth place), Kurt Busch (ninth) and Greg Biffle (10th) don't have that much ground on 11th-place Kahne. If one of them falters, it could knock them down to 11th and give Bowyer even more of a cushion.

? Carl Edwards. Like Bowyer, Edwards is in good shape to leave Bristol with a 97-point edge over the 11th-place driver. Edwards currently has a 103-point edge over 11th-place Kahne.

Edwards would clinch an automatic spot in the Chase with a victory, which would be his second of the season, or a runner-up showing. If he finishes third and leads at least one lap (for a bonus point), or finishes fourth and leads the most laps (for two bonus points), he also clinches a top-10 spot.

Depending on who wins, how the bonus points fall and how drivers on the bubble perform, Edwards still could clinch with a strong finish outside the top four.

At this time last year, Edwards was on the outside of the top 10 and had to have a win at Bristol. He stayed out when most of the field pitted for fuel, and although it put him in first place, he eventually had to go down pit road with a few laps left and lost all his ground.

? Kevin Harvick. Harvick isn't quite as likely to clinch Saturday as Bowyer and Edwards, but he still has a mathematical chance. Currently, he leads the 11th-place Kahne by 90 points. He needs to improve his current cushion by seven points.

Harvick finished 14th in the first race at Thunder Valley this year, and he's recorded a top-10 finish in 11 of the past 15 races. Another one of those would go a long way toward securing a postseason spot, especially at a place like Bristol, where tempers run as high as the banking and you never know who may end up in the wall.

Wild Card breakdown

Two drivers ranked 11th-20th will receive Wild Card berths into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The drivers with the most wins are selected. If there's a tie, the spot goes to the driver ranked higher.

? Matt Kenseth. Kenseth won't be able to clinch an automatic spot. He's just 29 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne. Even if you give Kenseth the maximum of 48 points earned at Bristol -- which is anything but easy -- he wouldn't reach the 97-point cushion. But there's another way for the No. 20.

He could win at Bristol. That would give him a series-high five wins with two races remaining and clinch a berth, because even back-to-back 43rd-place finishes to end the season would keep him in the top 20, a requirement for earning a Wild Card.

If he doesn't win, Kenseth could run well and see how the points shake out. If it's possible for him to not fall out of the top 20 after Bristol, he'll clinch at least a Wild Card berth.

? Kasey Kahne. Kahne's name is being tossed around a lot because he's in that crucial 11th-place position. It's a good thing he already has two wins.

His Chase chances are outstanding. If he wins at Bristol and gets some help based on where other drivers finish, he can clinch a Wild Card spot. Kahne's season got on track earlier this year at Bristol, when he broke through for his first victory at the 0.533-mile oval. He's attempting to become the first driver to sweep Bristol since Kyle Busch in 2009.

? Kyle Busch. Busch, currently fifth in the standings, can clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a victory and some help based on where other drivers finish.

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