Saturday night is it — the last chance for drivers to stake their claim on a berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, 12-man, 10-race NASCAR postseason. Seven of the 12 spots have already been clinched heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, the last race before the Chase cutoff. Six of those spots have been claimed by virtue of six drivers making sure that there is not mathematical chance that he’ll drop out of the top-10 in the standings, no matter what happens at Richmond. Those drivers include Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne is guaranteed at least a wild card spot with his two trips to victory lane.
That leaves five spots, and there are 10 drivers who have a mathematical shot at claiming one of said five spots. Those drivers include Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.
The first four of those drivers — Earnhardt, Logano, Biffle and Busch — do have control of their own destinies. They can clinch spots based solely on their own performance, without regard to the performance and/or bad racing luck of others. The other sixth, though, need a little help in the form of bad racing luck or poor performance of others. I hate the idea of others being in control of my destiny, so my picks as to who’ll claim the final spots are pretty much along the lines of those who can control their own destinies.
I do see Earnhardt getting in. And, no, I’m not just staying that to get on Junior Nation’s good side. I really believe he’s going to make the Chase this year. After all he can clinch a Chase spot by just finishing 32nd or better Saturday night at Richmond. If he leads a lap, that necessary finish is just 33rd or better. It drops to 34th or better if he leads the most laps.
I also see Logano and Biffle getting in. Logano needs to finish 11th or better and Biffle 10th, that’s with no laps led. Okay, so that may seem like kind of a lofty order, but some bad luck by some specific others would lower the requirements. Okay, so maybe I am going to take the performance of others into at least a little consideration.
I think it’s going to be good performance by one or two others that will actually knock Kurt Busch out. Busch has to win, finish second and lead a lap or finish third after leading the most laps. While I am impressed with what Busch and the No. 78 team have done for most of the season, I just don’t see him doing this at Richmond. Of course, like Biffle and Logano, poor performances by select others will also lower Busch’s requirements for Chase entry. But I’m not going to hold my breath on this one.
I actually see Gordon replacing Busch in the top-10. Gordon headed into Richmond on the outside looking in last year and managed to squeak out a Chase berth. I look for more of the same this time around.
That wraps up the top-10. Then there’s the two wild card spots. Kahne, of course, will take one of those. Newman and Truex are the two among the rest with wins, each having one. A win by either would give them the other wild card, but I don’t predict a win for either of them Saturday night. Who’s going to win? I don’t know, but that’s not the point of these predictions, anyway. This is about who’s going to be in the Chase.
I stay the tie breaker, points, will determine the final wild card recipient. Truex heads into Richmond five points ahead of Newman. Five points translates into just five positions on the race track. This is a close one. But I think I’m going to go with Truex remaining ahead of Newman and claiming the final wild card spot.
So here it goes, my prediction on the 12 drivers who’ll be in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon. Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
That’s right, I don’t think reigning champion Keselowski is going to be defending his title.
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But before you leve here, check out these videos from a few Chase hopefuls talking about their strategies at Richmond: