Monday, July 16, 2012

Chase Breakdown: 10 Drivers In, 10 Others Vying For Final Two Spots

With just seven races remaining until the field for the 2012 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup is set, the championship landscape is becoming a bit easier to discern. 

Relax, Bradley. You're in!
The current Top-10 drivers in Sprint Cup championship points are unlikely to fall out of those guaranteed Chase spots. They may swap positions between now and the start of the Chase, but from point-leader Matt Kenseth through 10th-place Brad Keselowski, it’ll take a major systemic meltdown for anyone to tumble from Chase contention in the next seven races.

Keselowski is now a full 46 points up on eleventh place. With a maximum of 48 markers available in any race, the Miller Lite Dodge driver has nearly a full race in hand over his closest pursuer, Carl Edwards. He’s also running considerably better than Edwards, making his spot in the Top-10 secure. 

While the Top-10 positions are seemingly secure, the battle for the two remaining Wild Card berths is wide open. The Wild Cards will be awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points who own the most wins at the end of the regular season, and at present, there are twice as many contending drivers as positions available. Kasey Kahne is now in the driver’s seat, after secured some breathing room with his second victory of the season Sunday in New Hampshire.  

Kasey's close, but not there yet.
Kyle Busch currently holds the second and final Wild Card spot, but is only slightly ahead of Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. All three drivers have a single win to their credit this season, and all three could go a long way toward securing their place in the Chase with another win. Two more checkered flags would almost certainly make them a lock.  

Currently in the Top-20 in points, but still without a win are Carl Edwards (11th), Paul Menard (15th), Jeff Gordon (17th), Marcos Ambrose (18th), Jeff Burton (19th) and Jamie McMurray (20th). With McMurray now 34 points clearly of 21st-place teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, it appears that unlikely that any new challengers will crack the Top-20 in time to earn a Wild Card berth. 

So here’s how it stacks up, as of now. The Top-10 drivers are realistically locked into the Chase on points. One (Kahne) is reasonably secure in Wild Card territory, while nine others fight for the final spot, with varying degrees of optimism. Edwards, Menard, Gordon, Ambrose, Burton and McMurray need to do something spectacular, and fast, since nothing less than two victories in the final seven races of the regular season will salvage their waning title hopes. 

Strap on those seat belts and tighten your HANS device. This could get very interesting.

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