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Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch Need a Win to Solidify Chase Hopes

Battle for Top 10 and Two Chase Wild-Card Spots Should Be Wild Come Richmond, With the Points Severely Bunched Up

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | BROOKLYN, Mich. -- So what's going on with the battle to make NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, with just three races left now that Michigan's race is complete?

Well, the battle for those coveted 12 spots is packed tighter than a subway at rush hour after Michigan.

Here's a full breakdown of how everyone's doing, and whom I see making it to the Chase:

Locks

The following drivers are safely in: Points leader Jimmie Johnson is locked; 2nd-place Clint Bowyer has no wins but has a big enough points cushion to not worry; Carl Edwards is solidly 3rd with a win; Kevin Harvick is a strong 4th with two wins; Kyle Busch is 5th with three wins; and Matt Kenseth is 6th with four wins.

That leaves four open spots in the top 10, plus two wild cards.

Who else will make it?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits 7th with zero wins (134 points behind Jimmie); Brad Keselowski sits 8th with zero wins (minus 146 points); and a surprising Kurt Busch sits 9th with zero wins (minus 148 points). In other words, Dale Jr. has a 20-point cushion to stay in the Chase, Brad has an eight-point cushion, and Kurt has a six-point cushion.

Bottom line: These guys need to win, ASAP. Any bad luck the next three races (blown tire, engine failure, accident, etc.) could keep them out of the Chase. Of this group, I see Dale and Brad making it in the Chase, but Kurt falling short (I don't see him getting a win or maintaining his position in the top 10).

Greg Biffle sits 10th with one win (minus 150 points); he could make it on points or fall back on wild card, but you can bet he wants another win for insurance, as things are pretty dicey. The Biff is pretty steady, so I see him making the Chase.

That leaves three spots (one more in the top ten, and the wild cards) and we have lots of contenders.

Kasey Kahne sits 11th in the points with 2 wins (minus 154 points); he's pretty much a lock, even if he's not in the top 10, due to his two wins.

The contenders for the two final spots are as follows:

Martin Truex Jr. sits 12th with 1 win (minus 160 points); a streaking Joey Logano sits 13th with one win (minus 167 points); Jeff Gordon sits 14th (he's in the worst shape -- minus 176 points with no wins); and lame-duck driver Ryan Newman sits 15th with 1 win (minus 177 points).

Beyond Newman, I don't see anyone with hope (Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, etc.), unless they rattle off a couple straight wins -- pretty much an impossibility at this point considering how they've run so far.

Of this group, Gordon has almost no chance. I don't see him winning a race and his only hope is to jump into the top 10, which isn't likely with the tight battle going on. So between Newman, Logano and Truex, I would choose Truex and Logano as the most likely to advance. Newman is kind of in that "I'm good but not that great" mode most weeks, which won't work for getting you into the Chase when there is a tight battle. Truex can also be like that, but he is much higher in points, so his cushion for failure is higher.

To sum up, here's my list of Chase qualifiers:

Jimmie Johnson

Clint Bowyer

Carl Edwards

Kevin Harvick

Kyle Busch

Matt Kenseth

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Greg Biffle

Brad Keselowski

Kasey Kahne

Joey Logano

Martin Truex Jr.

Let me know if you agree or not.

NOTE: Matt Myftiu is at Michigan International Speedway covering the racing this weekend.

Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

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