There are only 12 races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series until the 2013 12 driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set. Motorsports 101 debates who they believe will be in the Chase.
First off you have to be realistic and say that the top seven drivers, barring a huge penalty, have pretty much locked themselves into the Chase. Those seven drivers are Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Those seven should make the Chase with ease.
That leaves the final five positions open for debate and that’s where I start. Eighth in the standings is Kasey Kahne. Kasey Kahne will make the Chase and will make a push for the championship. The #5 team has been one of the few teams to be able to run with the #20 and #48 teams so far this season and while Kahne has had a few bad weeks, he and Kenny Francis will rebound and be a championship contender.
That leaves four positions open. Ninth in the standings is Brad Keselowski. The defending champion has only missed the Chase once, when Tony Stewart did it in 2006. I think Keselowski will make it but the team has to do two things. The first thing is they have to find speed. The Fords have been lacking in the speed department and they need to fix that. The second is they have to limit the distractions. It seems like that is all that the #2 team has had this year. Once they limit the distractions and focus on racing the team should be in good shape. They have a great driver and a great crew chief and those two things alone will get them in the Chase.
Then there is Greg Biffle who is tenth. Through 14 races Biffle has just five top ten finishes, which is not good. Aside from his second place finish at Pocono last Sunday Biffle has struggled and led just 39 laps so far on the season. If Biffle doesn’t win I don’t see him making the Chase. Tony Stewart is coming on strong and Jeff Gordon has some of his better tracks coming up and I believe they will make it as well. Biffle may be on the outside looking in come September.
Eleventh in the points, and holding the second Wild Card spot right now, is Jeff Gordon and while his 2013 season has been a disappointment Gordon is still with one of the best teams in the business and he is still Jeff Gordon. He has won a race in 18 of his 20 full seasons and while the #24 team may not be a championship contender, I got to believe they will be in the Chase. Chevrolet and Hendrick have been better than Ford and Roush so far in 2013 so that puts Gordon ahead of Biffle.
Sitting 12th in the standings is Paul Menard. Menard is simply not good enough to make the Chase. That is my personal opinion. He and crew chief Slugger Labbe have good chemistry but that team is as good as they can be with the driver they have. They start out well and always fall. This season will be the same.
Tony Stewart is 13th in the standings currently and holds the first Wild Card as of right now due to his win at Dover. Stewart has done a nice job rebounding from what was a miserable start to the 2013 season. Stewart has one win this season and I got to believe that he will get another one. If he does that he will definitely make the Chase by a Wild Card spot, which I think he will.
Sitting 14th in the points is Aric Almirola and much like Paul Menard in 12th, Almirola hasn’t shown he is ready to be a Chase contender just yet. Todd Parrott is a great crew chief and Almirola started out strong but has faded. I expect that to continue.
Kurt Busch is 15th in the points and the Furniture Row Racing is an interesting team. I believe that Busch and his team will get one of the Wild Card spots. Busch is strong and a great driver. The team has had some flashes of brilliance. Mechanical failures have hurt this team but they have a strong association with RCR and I think that will help this team and Kurt will get a win and make the Chase.
I believe one win could get you in as I don’t see anyone else 16th through 21st winning a race in 2013. As great of a story as it would be Denny Hamlin is just too far back to make the Chase. With Toyota’s engine problems not completely figured out, Hamlin is just one DNF away from having no shot.
Jimmie Johnson is a certain Chase lock with a 128 point lead over 11th place Jeff Gordon right now. He also has three wins when one would most likely get a Wild Card spot. Carl Edwards currently is sitting pretty for a Chase berth with a 77 point lead on Gordon in 11th and one win. While Clint Bowyer in third and Dale Earnhardt Jr in fourth do not have any wins yet they also look solid to make the Chase. Bowyer is 59 points ahead of 11th and Earnhardt Jr is 46 ahead.
Kevin Harvick is 41 points ahead of Gordon but has two wins already which certainly has him as a lock to make the Chase in his last season with Richard Childress Racing. Matt Kenseth sure has had his issues this season but with that said he is sixth in points with a 25 point cushion on Gordon right now. His three wins have him as a lock for sure. Kyle Busch is seventh only 19 points ahead of 11th but he has two wins which have him in good shape. He only had one win last season and that was not enough for him to make the Chase so Kyle is certainly feeling the pressure again.
Kasey Kahne is a slim seven points in front of his teammate and eighth right now. His one win is good but Kahne needs to get back on track after having a tough couple of weeks. He certainly had the form early to be a championship contender come the Chase but now he is just fighting for a spot in it. He will make the turnaround and be in the Chase. Brad Keselowski is ninth and only five points ahead of Gordon. It is going to be a battle for the defending champ to even be in the Chase to defend his title. The switch to Ford has not been good for Penske Racing to date but Brad should be able to scratch and claw his way to a Chase berth.
Greg Biffle is currently holding the 10th position and is two points ahead of Gordon right now. Biffle was in a huge slide before his second at Pocono. Before that his best finish in six races was 13th. Another stretch like that and Biffle will not make the Chase which is the way I am leaning. Jeff Gordon came up clutch in 2012 and made the Chase in the finale at Richmond with a terrific ride. This season will be just as nail bitting for #24 fans but I expect the veteran driver to get the job done and all four Hendrick Motorsports cars will be into the Chase for the second straight year.
Tony Stewart is on fire right now and in 13th in points after being 21st just three races ago. He reeled off seventh, first, and fourth place finishes in the last three races and Stewart all of the sudden now looks like he is back to top form. I expect his hot streak to continue and he will make the Chase.
Paul Menard in 12th is ten points behind tenth right now and 23rd place driver Marcos Ambrose is 74 points back. Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr , Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Marcos Ambrose are all in the mix still. Wins are what will get these drivers into the Chase and Wild Card contention. While some drivers have not been too close to winning this season some have. Truex has been close as well as Kurt Busch and Montoya. Ambrose could sweep the road courses which would put him in great Wild Card shape. I am not ready to write any of these drivers out but will not put any in my final spot.
That honor goes to Denny Hamlin. Yes, he missed four races and has not made much headway since coming back. Hamlin is currently 76 points behind Stenhouse Jr just to get into 20th and be Wild Card eligible. We have seen how fast a driver can make up points though with what Tony Stewart has done over the past three races. Hamlin's blown tire at Dover has him in a hole but his team won the pole for that race and at Charlotte and finished second, fourth, and eighth at Darlington, Charlotte, and Pocono. What he needs is wins though and I think he will still get them over the next 12 races. Last season he had two wins in the 12 races, in 2011 he had one, in 2010 he had two, and in 2009 he had two. It might take three for him to climb to 20th but I still think that Hamlin has time to do it.
Tags: Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Clayton Caldwell, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Mark Eddinger, Motorsports, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Sprint Cup Series, Tony Stewart
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