12 drivers have won a race this season and Matt Kenseth, who is winless and in fifth in the points standings, is a virtual lock to make the Chase barring two disastrous finishes. If the Chase started now, 24 races into the season, the next three spots would be filled by winless drivers. And those winless drivers would be Newman, Bowyer and Biffle.
By avoiding poor finishes on Saturday night at Bristol, the three put some separation between all other winless drivers in the battle for the final three Chase spots.
As we said last week, it's possible that a winless driver could win before the Chase begins. But there have only been two first-time winners in the last 12 races. The odds aren't good, especially when you consider those first-time winners came at a restrictor plate track and a road course.
Based on that, we're going with the assumption that there are three "bubble" spots for the Chase. And, well, they're not really much of a bubble after Bristol. Here's how the battle for the final Chase spots looks with two to go.
Matt Kenseth (5th in points, 57 points ahead of Greg Biffle): We're just putting Kenseth here to show how much of a crater he'd have to fall into at Atlanta and Richmond to miss the Chase. He finished third at Bristol.
Ryan Newman (9th, +16): Newman started 11th and finished 13th, which about sums up his season to-date, don't you think?
Clint Bowyer (10th, +5): Bowyer sustained some pretty severe damage in his run-in with Kyle Busch but it was far from terminal. It meant Bowyer only lost a couple of laps and ended up 17th.
Greg Biffle (11th, 26 points ahead of Kyle Larson): If Biffle makes the Chase, he has Marcos Ambrose to thank. Biffle was being black flagged for a flapping rear bumper cover after contact on track, but instead of having to serve the penalty and remove the bumper under green, Ambrose crashed and brought out a caution. Biffle's team made the repairs under yellow and he ended up finishing 10th.
Kyle Larson (12th, -26): Finishing in the same vicinity as the guys you're racing against isn't horrible unless you need to make up a lot of points on them. Larson needs to make up a lot of points. He finished 12th.
Kasey Kahne (13th, -33): Kahne had to pit under green for a loose wheel and lost two laps. Not long after that, a caution came out and Kahne was essentially trapped. Then he had to go behind the wall later in the race. Look for the No. 5 team to go for broke at Atlanta. He finished 35th at Bristol.
Austin Dillon (14th, -40): Dillon hit the wall early and that meant a really long night. He finished 28th.
Paul Menard (15th, -45): PFM is less than a full race out of the Chase and finished 9th so we can't ignore him. Yet, anyway. He's going to have to make up points at Atlanta to be more than just on the mathematical periphery at Richmond.
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