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Chase Watch: 12th is Bowyer's to lose

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Does anyone want to make the Chase?

Of the six drivers we highlight below – Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – none finished higher than 13th at Michigan. In other words, there was opportunity to gain ground, only no one (save Bowyer, who made up 45 points on Martin) did.

With three races to go, here is how the field looks heading into Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor 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.]

12. Clint Bowyer

Points vs. 13th: +35
Average finish at remaining tracks: 14.9
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (10.2)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (18.0)
Bristol average: 18.0
Estimated average finish needed: 9th
Comment: Bowyer remains in the driver's seat. Steer clear of trouble over the next three races and he's in the Chase. What could make things very interesting is if he were to win at Richmond, propelling him to the playoff with some momentum. Remember, Bowyer is very good at New Hampshire. Three years ago, he qualified for the Chase, won at NHMS and wound up finishing third in the standings.

13. Mark Martin

Points vs. 12th: -35
Average finish at remaining tracks: 14.1
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (12.0)
Worst remaining track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (17.3)
Bristol average: 12.9
Estimated average finish needed: 7th
Comment: Nope, not even having his 2011 status all cleared up could boost his performance. That Martin is still in Chase contention is a minor miracle (or speaks to the mediocrity of the competition) given that he has just two top-10 finishes in the last 14 races.

14. Ryan Newman

Points vs. 12th: -103
Average finish at remaining tracks: 15.8
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (18.2)
Bristol average: 18.2
Estimated average finish needed: 2nd
Comment: Regardless of who's fault it was between him and Joey Logano, it's understandable why Newman was so upset after the race at Michigan. Until his run-in with Logano, Newman had a decent points day going. A top-15 finish was well within reach. Instead, he wound up 23rd, which is a difference of at least 26 points.

15. Jamie McMurray

Points vs. 12th: -105
Average finish at remaining tracks: 21.8
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Raceway (19.3)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (25.2)
Bristol average: 19.3
Estimated average finish needed: 2nd
Comment: Want to know why McMurray, despite having more top-5s this season than all but six other drivers, isn't higher in the standings? In 23 races this season, he has just two finishes between seventh and 16th, and 15 where he finished 17th or worse. He's good where he's good, but bad where he's bad.

16. Kasey Kahne

Points vs. 12th: -126
Average finish at remaining tracks: 17.6
Best remaining track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (16.0)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (21.1)
Michigan average:15.2
Estimated average finish needed: 1st
Comment: Looked like he might make a last-ditch run when he won the pole at Michigan. Alas, that didn't even last a single lap as Kahne was passed before he got back to the start-finish line. And with that, his Chase hopes fizzled.

16. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Points vs. 12th: -129
Average finish at remaining tracks: 12.2
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (15.5)
Bristol average: 11.4
Estimated average finish needed: 1st
Comment: As noted in this week's mailbag, had Junior averaged only a 16th-place finish over the last five races, he'd be ahead or nearly even with Bowyer. Of the drivers not named Bowyer or Martin, Junior has the best chance to rally. That's because he has the best average finish at the three remaining tracks of any of the bubble drivers. That said, he's been well below average in each of the last five races.

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