With Things Getting Cramped, Pivotal Stretch Ahead For Chasers

By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)

There is a heck of a battle going on for the final spot in the Chase For The Sprint Cup, and we are entering a five race stretch without an off-week. It all begins this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

What we virtually have going into this pivotal stretch is eight drivers vying for three spots inside the top-12 in the standings. Pretty cramped huh?

These drivers are: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, and Kasey Kahne.

Currently these eight drivers are separated by just 179 points. Edwards, Biffle and Bowyer find themselves inside the chase while the others are outside looking in, however a lot can change quickly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

So I know what you’re asking who is in and who is out? Well let’s look to the past to see if we can get a glimpse into the future.

Over the next five races here are the career average finishes at these tracks for these drivers:

  • Carl Edwards, 10.66
  • Mark Martin, 11.70
  • Greg Biffle, 16.56
  • Clint Bowyer, 16.96
  • Kasey Kahne, 17.40
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr., 17.74
  • Ryan Newman, 17.86
  • David Reutimann, 24.14

So if the past holds true over the next five races for these drivers… what would the point standings look like heading into the final two races before the chase?

10. Carl Edwards, +164 points to chase

11. Mark Martin, +38 points to chase

12. Greg Biffle, +6 points to chase

————Chase Cutoff————–

13. Clint Bowyer, -6 points to chase

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr., -36 points to chase

15. Ryan Newman, -120 points to chase

16. Kasey Kahne, -126 points to chase

17. David Reutimann, -207 points to chase

As you can see Carl Edwards would look virtually safe with two races remaining according to past results, and David Reutimann would look like a huge long-shot… however every driver would still mathematically have a shot at making the chase with two races remaining. However as we all know things don’t always go according to plan.

This is where we have to begin weighing in the intangibles. Here are my thoughts on what will happen the rest of the way to the chase.

Carl Edwards has led just four laps all season long, has had two DNFs (Did Not Finish), and lets not forget that Chicago was just his second top-five finish of the entire season.

Throw into the mix that Carl is hated by Kevin Harvick, and has had run-ins with Kurt Busch, and of course the on-going saga with Brad Keselowski and what you have is a pretty big list of people waiting in line to kick his butt. In my opinion that is not a good recipe when trying to make the Chase For The Sprint Cup.

Mark Martin has performed mediocre for the majority of the season when you compare 2010 to his monstrous 2009 campaign. However when you look closer at it, if ‘the kid’ can avoid trouble on the track he could sneak into the chase with the durability of Hendrick engines.

Don’t forget he and Kasey Kahne are the best of this group as far as top-five finishes go this season… each of them have five.

Greg Biffle is a true wild card in this entire deal. Not because of his talent, the guy can certainly wheel the car. However Roush-Fenway Racing has been behind the eight ball all season long, and just when it appears he has a good run going… poof goes an engine.

Biffle has ten, top-ten finishes on the season, but over the past three races his best finish is 16th and he has had two DNFs over the last six races. I don’t like what I’m seeing and if this trend continues count Biffle out of the chase.

Is there anyone in this field that has been unluckier than Clint Bowyer? Bowyer saw great runs mired at both Infineon and Daytona and as a result he sits just outside of the chase. However I see Bowyer overcoming and pushing his way back into the chase with ease.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been riding a roller coaster all season long. He is either really really good, or really really bad. Which Earnhardt will show up over these next five races? That remains to be seen, but the good news for Earnhardt is that he is coming off of his best four race stretch of the season before the debacle at Chicago.

The saving grace for Earnhardt is that he has been running at the conclusion of every race thus far this season. Call me crazy, but I think the 88 team will do just enough to make it into the chase this season.

Ryan Newman for the majority of the season was inside the chase, while his owner Tony Stewart was not. Over the past few weeks the two have virtually flip-flopped and now Newman is left wondering what has gone wrong. Good news: Newman got his first win since the 2008 Daytona 500 this year. Bad News: He will not make the chase.

Kasey Kahne has arguably been the best performing car from this entire group all season long… just luck hasn’t been on his side. He was sent nearly out of the track at Pocono on the final lap, and he had an FR9 engine expire on him at New Hampshire. If Kahne can bide his time, avoid trouble on the track, and the engine holds together he’s a lock in my opinion… but that’s easier said than done.

David Reutimann, the feel good story of the year… and last year. Reutimann is coming off of his second career victory at Chicago, and now finds himself in the thick of the chase hunt. However this is precisely where he was last year, when things fell apart. I like the guy, and his Michael Waltrip Racing team is getting stronger, but I think its still a year or two away from them being in the chase.

So there you have it I have Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne in the chase after Richmond heading into the chase. What’s your take? Who do you see making it in? Who will come up just short? Let your voice be heard below.

Author: Toby Christie

Toby is the Editor of TheFinalLap.com and Social Media Director of all things @TheFinalLap. He is the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly radio show and podcast, and he is the writer and co-host of the Racing Legends podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.

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