It’s that time of the season that everyone loves, when the mad dash to claim a spot in the Chase is in full swing. A seasons hard work can come to end in just two weeks time and drivers and teams are desperate to be amongst the chosen twelve who’s season can go on to a chance of championship glory. With such a small spread of points covering the leading contenders, just 38 points separate 14th to 8th, the final positions are really going to come down to the last race at Richmond.
So who is in contention for these coveted places and can they make the Chase? Before I go through the drivers, let me point out that I am not going to go through every driver in the top 20! While it is still possible that someone like Juan Pablo Montoya or Jeff Burton could win the next two races and make a wildcard spot we all know that is never going to happen. Instead I’m going to focus on positions 8 – 15 as that seems to be the most interchangeable, after the Bristol race some drivers moved up three places while others fell by three places.
After moving up to 8th from 11th following Bristol he is now a virtual certainty to make the Chase on account of his two wins which means that even if he slips outside the top 10 he will still be in prime position to claim a wildcard spot. Of course he won’t be happy with a wildcard spot as that will mean that he won’t be able to claim the 6 points from his wins. Atlanta is a track that has been kind to Kahne in the past with two wins there, but the last of those was in 2009 and in the last three visits his best place finish has been 23rd. It is a similar story with Richmond where his last two results have been 12th and 21st respectively. If he finishes in similar positions this time it will probably see him have to claim a wildcard spot.
Another driver with a win that should help him if he falls outside the top 10, which as his current position is 9th is a distinct possibility. He does however have a 13 point cushion on 10th place so a solid top 10 finish this weekend should keep him there. While Atlanta isn’t his best track it certainly isn’t his worst. If he can replicate the 15th and 12th in his last two visits it should be enough to keep him in an automatic qualification spot. But that may not be enough if his Richmond form continues, one top 10 finish in his last 13 visits is a poor show and could throw him into the battle for a wildcard where he might just have a points advantage but it will be seen as a massive disappointment if he can’t make the Chase automatically.
Logano is a driver that shows you can never count anyone out, up until Michigan two weeks ago he looked to have no chance at making the Chase. But a win at the Pure Michigan 400, coupled with a good result at Bristol saw him shoot up the standings to 10th. But it is a tenuous position with only 4 points keeping him out of the wildcard scrum. Atlanta won’t do anything to help his grip on the final spot with a best place finish of 18th. He may have to throw all his eggs into Richmond basket, where he got his best ever Richmond finish of 3rd in the earlier season race. But with a two finishes in the 30s in the last four visits it is a basket that has got lots of holes. I don’t see him staying in the top 10 though and he will have to rely on his win to try to get a coveted wildcard spot. Which in itself is going to be a tough battle.
It’s a surprise to see the current Champion in 11th place and on the verge of missing out on the Chase. Since its inception in 2004 no current Champion has missed out on the Chase the following year (although Tony Stewart came close in 2006 needing a wildcard spot). To make matters worse for him he has yet to pick up a win and therefore at present isn’t even with a shot at a wildcard. He has been dipping in and out of the top 10 for a while and a bad finish at Bristol saw him fall three places as the pressure starts mounting. He can take some hope from the fact that the last couple of visits to Atlanta saw him pick up a 3rd and 6th place, either of which would be very welcome this weekend. His last visit to Richmond though was a race to forget after finishing in 33rd, but two top 10 finishes before that should give him hope that he can still get the results to move back into the top 10. However without that win, he is going to need a bit of good fortune but he certainly has the skills to claw his way back up the standings.