There are two races left until the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and there’s a new man on top. Jimmie Johnson had another abysmal race last weekend at Bristol, and once again failed to finish. He still holds the points lead for now, but Matt Kenseth won the race Saturday night, giving him five for the season, compared to Johnson’s four. Since the Chase field is seeded by wins, if neither man wins one of the next two races, Kenseth will actually start in front of Johnson when the playoffs begin. It’s not a great time for the #48 to be experiencing troubles, and it has the entire racing community buzzing.
On the other end of the spectrum, the bottom of the Chase field is as active as a Hawaiian volcano, with nothing set in stone. The standings will once again shuffle after Sunday night’s Advocare 500 from the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, and even then, we still won’t be sure who’s gonna make it. In lieu of the standard race preview format, this week at the drivers that are definitely in the Chase, those that will probably make it, and the bottom feeders that are unsure about their playoff hopes.
Current Points Position: 1st
Jimmie’s had troubles as of late, but he was the first person to lock himself into the Chase, and for all we know, the team could be engineering their misfortune themselves as an attempt to get a bunch of bad luck out of the way before the Chase starts. Johnson has four wins and all the hunger in the world to get his sixth championship. When the Chase starts in two weeks at Chicagoland, he’ll be ready.
Current Points Position: 2nd
Bowyer became the second driver to lock himself into the Chase after Saturday night’s race at Bristol, and he’s driven his way to his current second place position in the standings without a single win. It’s a remarkable example of consistency, but the Chase will not be won by a driver who doesn’t win any of the final ten races, so Bowyer needs to augment that consistency with a couple of trophies if he wants a shot at the title.
Current Points Position: 6th
Kenseth will definitely be in the Chase. However, he hasn’t officially locked in his top ten position. If he were to fall out before the Chase starts and have to take one of the wild card spots, his five wins will not yield him any bonus points and he’ll start at the bottom. While the chances of him falling to one of those spots is slim, the #20 team still has to be careful not to get caught up in somebody else’s accident, lest their remarkable regular season run be for naught.
Who’s Probably In
Current Points Position: 3rd
It’s all but a given that Edwards will be in the Chase, as he sits comfortably in third with one win under his belt. But, it’s not official just yet. More than likely, he’ll lock in his spot Sunday night.
Current Points Position: 4th
Harvick’s in the same boat as Edwards, with an even more comfortable situation, as he’s got two wins. He’ll probably lock in his spot at Atlanta.
Current Points Position: 5th
His spot is a tad more precarious points wise, but Busch’s three wins make him a favorite to make the Chase, and his biggest hurdle is to make sure he makes it in the top ten and doesn’t lose the opportunity for bonus points from his victories.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Current Points Positon: 7th
I hesitated to put Jr. in this category, as he’s less than a full race’s worth of points ahead of 11th place, and he has zero wins, so it is conceivable that he could fall out of the Chase after Atlanta. But, it would basically take Jr. finishing dead last and all drivers directly behind him taking all of the top spots, and that’s unlikely. However, Jr.’s got no wins under his belt and hasn’t shown top notch speed much this season, so even if he does make the Chase, at the moment, he’s not a top contender.
Current Points Position: 8th
Kasey has two wins under his belt, and almost made it three Saturday at Bristol, coming up just short to Kenseth for the third time this season. The situation that would have to play out to keep Kahne out of the Chase is a long shot, so like Busch and Kenseth, Kasey’s biggest goal is to make sure he finishes in the top to get his bonus points.
Who’s on the bubble
Current Points Position: 9th
Greg is 17 points ahead of 11th place and has one win, so any minor misfortune could cost him dearly. The victory gives him a small cushion should anything happen Sunday at Atlanta, but if his misfortune coincides with good luck for any of his opponents outside the top 10, he could be on the outside looking in very quickly.
Current Points Position: 10th
Logano’s run in the last few races may be the hottest of any driver, but he started from deep in the field, and his roll has only put him four points ahead of 11th place with a single victory. His position is exactly like Biffle’s, but even more precarious, considering the smaller points differential between he and the folks outside the top ten.
Martin Truex Jr.
Current Points Position: 14th
Truex currently holds the first of two wild card spots due to his one win, but he’s a full 22 points behind 10th place Logano, so if two of the drivers with wins fall out of the top ten but stay in front of Truex, he’ll be out of luck. He’s also going to be racing injured after he suffered a fracture in his right wrist following an accident at Bristol, so Truex will have to battle through some pain to make the Chase.
Current Points Position: 15th
Newman’s plight is uncannily similar to Truex’s, as he’s 26 points behind 10th place with only win, meaning his chances could be ruined just as easily. He’s also racing with the knowledge that even though boss Tony Stewart said he wouldn’t be expanding to four cars next year, putting Newman out of a job, the team recanted and announced this week that Kurt Busch will actually be coming over in that fourth car, and that deceit has to have Newman stinging a bit.
Current Points Position: 11th
Last year’s champion has had a rough season, and if it ended right now, he’d follow up his title by not even making the Chase. He’s four points behind 10th and has no wins, and he hasn’t shown any signs of being ready to grab a victory this year. A win would bolster his chances, but at the moment, he’s in the hot seat.
Current Points Position: 12th
Busch worked all season to get into the top ten in points, and a loose wheel hub at Bristol knocked him right back out. He’s six points behind 10th, but has come close to wins all year. The team has speed, but mistakes, either by Busch or his crew, have hurt them all year. They’re going to have to find one perfect race with no mishaps if they want in to the championship battle.
Current Points Position: 13th
Gordon did a masterful job of coming from a 34th starting position at Bristol, but his car was super fast and he only managed a 7th place finish. It gained him points on 10th, but not enough, as he’s still 11 points behind Logano. He battled all the way to wire last year to make the Chase, and he’s going to have to do it again if he wants in the hunt for his fifth championship.