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Chase Watch: 12th back up for grabs

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer are doing everything they can to make the race to the Chase more than just a two-driver competition. Both had an opportunity at Watkins Glen to put the rest of the field away for good. Instead, they re-opened the door, especially for Ryan Newman, who trimmed 55 points off the deficit between himself and 12th place.

With four races to go, here is how the field shakes out heading into Sunday's Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway:

[NOTE: The estimated average finish needed is based on the points total each driver needs in order to match the average number of points the 12th-place driver earned after Race No. 26 in the 2007-09 seasons.]

9. Carl Edwards

Points vs. 12th: +190
Average finish at remaining tracks: 13.2
Best remaining track: Michigan International Raceway (6.6)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (17.5)
Michigan average: 6.6
Estimated average finish needed: 26th
Comment: Edwards is now in a comfortable enough position in the standings where he can focus entirely on winning. Anything less than a top-5 finish at Michigan will be a disappointment. To win a title, drivers have to be good on intermediate tracks, and MIS (an intermediate track) is one of Edwards' best. If he's not good enough to win this weekend, it's hard to expect him to be good enough to win anywhere else.

10. Matt Kenseth

Points vs. 13th: +175
Average finish at remaining tracks: 13.2
Best remaining track: Michigan International Raceway (10.0)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (17.0)
Michigan average: 10.0
Estimated average finish needed: 25th
Comment: Mr. Top 20 finished 13th at Watkins Glen, giving him 12 finishes this season between 11th and 20th and six straight. That'll be good enough to make the Chase, but once in it he will fade to the very back.

11. Greg Biffle

Points vs. 13th: +112
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.0
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Raceway (11.0)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (16.0)
Michigan average: 12.8
Estimated average finish needed: 19th
Comment: Like Edwards, this is a huge weekend for Biffle. He contends that he's been a factor to win in three of the last four races. To be a factor to win a title, he'll have to make that four of the last five.

12. Mark Martin

Points vs. 12th: +10
Average finish at remaining tracks: 13.9
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (12.0)
Worst remaining track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (17.3)
Michigan average: 13.3
Estimated average finish needed: 11th
Comment: A mechanical failure on Clint Bowyer's car is the only reason Martin is back in the top 12. It's becoming clear that the team improvement Martin has touted the last month isn't providing results. If he winds up making the Chase, it won't be because of his team's performance, but rather because of an array of bad luck for Bowyer.

13. Clint Bowyer

Points vs. 13th: -10
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.5
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (10.2)
Worst remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (21.2)
Michigan average: 21.2
Estimated average finish needed: 10th
Comment: Bowyer proved prophetic when he told Yahoo! Sports last week that the only thing that worries him are things out of his control. Lo and behold, he suffered a mechanical failure at Watkins Glen that turned a surefire positive points day into a loser. Even still, if Bowyer can keep his car on the track, he should have no problem out-racing Martin.

14. Ryan Newman

Points vs. 12th: -83
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.7
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (19.4)
Michigan average: 19.4
Estimated average finish needed: 6th
Comment: Look who we have here. Left for dead a week ago, Newman finds himself right back in the thick of things thanks to back-to-back 12th-place finishes. While not impressive, apparently you need only be average in order to grab that 12th and final spot.

15. Jamie McMurray

Points vs. 12th: -94
Average finish at remaining tracks: 21.2
Best remaining track: Michigan International Raceway (19.3)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (25.2)
Michigan average: 19.3
Estimated average finish needed: 5th
Comment: Making the Chase is a long shot at this point. However, count on McMurray being the "hot" random pick to make the playoff in 2011.

16. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Points vs. 12th: -121
Average finish at remaining tracks: 13.0
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (15.5)
Michigan average: 15.5
Estimated average finish needed: 4th
Comment: Somehow Junior is still alive (sort of), and considering his solid average at the remaining four tracks, Junior Nation is certainly holding out hope. But while history is on his side, recent results aren't. Junior hasn't finished better than 23rd in more than a month.

17. Kasey Kahne

Points vs. 12th: -133
Average finish at remaining tracks: 17.6
Best remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (15.2)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (21.1)
Michigan average:15.2
Estimated average finish needed: 3rd
Comment: Will Kahne experience a boost in performance now that his 2011 plans are set? Maybe. Will it be good enough to make up 133 points? Possible, given he finished second at Michigan earlier this season, but not probable.