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Chase Watch: The field is getting clearer

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

For the first time, there is actual separation between 12th and 13th in the NASCAR standings. That's good news for Clint Bowyer, bad news for Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and everyone else who's chasing the Chase.

Every Wednesday, Yahoo! Sports breaks down those drivers who remain on the Chase bubble. With six races to go, including Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, here's how the list shakes out:

[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.]

8. Matt Kenseth

Points vs. 13th: +189
Average finish at remaining tracks: 13.8
Best remaining track: Michigan International Raceway (10.0)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (17.0)
Pocono average: 14.2
Estimated average finish needed: 21st
Comment: Kenseth isn't running well enough to win a title, but he is posting decent enough finishes to secure a spot in the Chase. He hasn't finished better than 10th in more than two months, but he's only finished worse than 17th once in that stretch.

9. Tony Stewart

Points vs. 13th: +160
Average finish at remaining tracks: 11.5
Best remaining track: Watkins Glen International (5.3)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (16.5)
Pocono average: 9.6
Estimated average finish needed: 21st
Comment: Just as expected, Smoke has heated up in the summer months, six top 10s in his past seven races. By the time he leaves Watkins Glen in two weeks, his berth in the Chase should be all but locked up — if it isn't already.

10. Carl Edwards

Points vs. 13th: +112
Average finish at remaining tracks: 12.5
Best remaining track: Michigan International Raceway (6.6)
Worst remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (17.5)
Pocono average: 13.3
Estimated average finish needed: 17th
Comment: For the first time all season, Edwards has led laps in consecutive races. Granted, his season tally is now at a grand total of five laps led, but that still counts as progress.

11. Greg Biffle

Points vs. 13th: +78
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.2
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Raceway (11.0)
Worst remaining track: Watkins Glen International (25.3)
Pocono average: 16.4
Estimated average finish needed: 15th
Comment: Biffle needed a solid run at Indy to stop his slide, and he got it. The fact that he left Indianapolis angry about not winning is a good sign.

12. Clint Bowyer

Points vs. 13th: +62
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.3
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (10.2)
Worst remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (21.2)
Pocono average: 16.6
Estimated average finish needed: 14th
Comment: Take away the late wreck at Daytona, a race Bowyer nearly won, and he's been as good as anyone over the past month. Yes, it's been an up-and-down season for Bowyer, but he's on an upswing at the perfect time.

13. Mark Martin

Points vs. 12th: -62
Average finish at remaining tracks: 12.4
Best remaining track: Watkins Glen International (7.8)
Worst remaining track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (17.3)
Pocono average: 11.1
Estimated average finish needed: 11th
Comment: Martin is still looking for his first top 10 since late May. This weekend's race at Pocono is a big one for him. Though he's never won there, he does have six runner-up finishes — meaning this a great opportunity for him to make up some ground.

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Points vs. 12th: -93
Average finish at remaining tracks: 15.4
Best remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Watkins Glen International (22.6)
Pocono average: 17.5
Estimated average finish needed: 10th
Comment: A few weeks ago, things were looking good for Junior. Today, his chances of making the Chase are bleak, especially when you consider that he needs to average a10th-place finish to qualify and his average finish at the six remaining tracks is 15th. Prepare yourselves for disappointment, Junior Nation.

15. Ryan Newman

Points vs. 12th: -147
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.2
Best remaining track: Richmond International Raceway (11.4)
Worst remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (19.4)
Pocono average: 13.4
Estimated average finish needed: 7th
Comment: Qualifying for the Chase last season was a tremendous accomplishment for Newman and his new squad. Not qualifying for it this season would be viewed as a regression. It shouldn't be. They overachieved a year ago.

16. Jamie McMurray

Points vs. 12th: -151
Average finish at remaining tracks: 16.5
Best remaining track: Pocono Raceway (19.3)
Worst remaining track: Watkins Glen International (25.3)
Pocono average: 19.3
Estimated average finish needed: 7th
Comment: McMurray may just be the best driver not in the top 12 right now. Chances are slim that he'll make up enough ground to qualify for the Chase, but he'll be competing for wins, which isn't something a lot of drivers can say right now.

17. Kasey Kahne

Points vs. 12th: -156
Average finish at remaining tracks: 17.5
Best remaining track: Michigan International Speedway (15.2)
Worst remaining track: Bristol Motor Speedway (21.1)
Pocono average:16.4
Estimated average finish needed: 7th
Comment: Seems no matter what Kahne does, he can't make up any ground. He'll need six straight top-10 finishes to make it in. He's capable of pulling that off; just not sure his team is.

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