Race Weekend Central

No Bull: It’s a NASCAR Playoff War: Rating 8 Contenders for the Final 2 Chase Spots

Now that the smoke has cleared from that 19-car pileup at Daytona, the battle for the final two spots in the 2010 NASCAR Chase for the Cup is as cluttered as turn 3 was on Saturday night (July 3). In my view, 10 men are safe, leaving eight drivers 180 points apart with chances to claim one of those final two places. But which two will they be? And will the drivers currently in 11th and 12th be racing for the Cup title or the $1 million bonus for 13th?

18. Joey Logano: 173 points out of 12th.

Logano is almost a race out of 12th and while 173 points isn’t insurmountable over eight races, he’s got to leap over six other drivers just to get to 12th. Note that if Logano wasn’t spun out by Kevin Harvick at Pocono, he’d be just 132 points out of 12th and in 16th place in the points standings.

See also
The Cool-Down Lap: Young Joey Logano Sends Loud Statement to Points Leader Kevin Harvick

Thanks to the sophomore learning curve, his history at the next eight tracks isn’t a very good indicator of success. But Logano has made three starts at Bristol in a Cup car and his highest finish is 27th. So, if past history holds just once, the bullring may put the fork in Logano’s already faint Chase hopes.

Chance of making the Chase: 5%

17. David Reutimann: 170 points out of 12th.

Like Logano, Reutimann has too many drivers to jump over given the deficit he’s facing and Reutimann hasn’t been spectacular at any of the next eight racetracks. Spectacular would be necessary to make a run at the Chase from where he’s currently positioned.

Chance of making the Chase: 5%

16. Kasey Kahne: 154 points out of 12th.

Kahne has looked like a Chase contender numerous times throughout 2010, but has been foiled by mechanical problems on an alarmingly consistent basis. Assuming that Kahne had a top-three car at New Hampshire – and he did – he lost a minimum of 110 points with that engine failure. Sure, it wasn’t guaranteed that Kahne would have finished in the top three with a healthy car, but had that motor not gone kaput in Loudon, Daytona would have sparked a lot of columns about how Kahne’s got a legitimate Chase shot in a lame duck year.

Chance of making the Chase: 15%.

15. Ryan Newman: 80 points out of 12th.

That massive crash dropped Newman a spot in the points standings, but on the bright side, that’s the last restrictor-plate race before the Chase. Doesn’t it feel like it’s gotten to the point where Newman is guaranteed to crash at Daytona and Talladega? Comparing his year to 2009, he had eight top 10s, while this year he has six, including a win at Phoenix. And last year, Newman’s average finish was 14.7. This year, it’s 16.9. He’s going to need to pick it up significantly.

Chance of making the Chase: 25%

14. Clint Bowyer: 49 points out of 12th.

Like Logano and Kahne, it’s impossible not to play the “what if” game with Bowyer, who saw a top-five finish Saturday night turn into 17th place as he slid through the grass on the backstretch. But Bowyer’s got three more top-10 finishes than this point in 2009 and that doesn’t include Pocono, where he had the dominant car until smacking the wall. Like his teammate Jeff Burton, it’s just a matter of time before Bowyer’s speed turns into a win or two, and those wins could come sooner rather than later.

Chance of making the Chase: 50%

13. Mark Martin: 39 points out of 12th.

Martin and Alan Gustafson have admitted that they’ve lost a bit of speed with the introduction of the spoiler, but if they can come close to replicating their summer of 2009, the No. 5 team should easily make the Chase. From Chicagoland to Richmond last year, Martin racked up five top fives and a seventh-place finish. If those top fives merely turn into top 10s this year, it should be enough to jump both Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the standings.

Chance of making the Chase: 50%

12. Carl Edwards: 39 points ahead of 13th.

Edwards has limited bad days so far, finishing below 25th just three times in the first half of 2010. But while the basement hasn’t been too deep, the ceiling hasn’t been too high given that the Roush Fenway cars haven’t sniffed victory lane. Edwards has gotten seven top-10 finishes, but the highest of those was a fifth place at Richmond. Edwards will be in it until the final regular-season race, but at this rate, his best-case scenario will be a top five while Bowyer or Martin could be contenders for the win. That’s probably not good enough.

Chance of making the Chase: 30%

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 46 points ahead of 13th.

Junior admitted that he was lucky Saturday night and that he’d rather be good than lucky. He’s right, because luck vaulted him into the Chase and he’ll have to be good to stay there. The No. 88 car’s been much better on intermediate tracks in 2010, but at the same time, there was a lot of room for improvement. Earnhardt Jr. is in a similar situation to Edwards, and even if he sneaks into the Chase, he’ll be expected to end up much closer to 12th than first.

Chance of making the Chase: 20%

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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