Though I’m sure NASCAR would prefer a couple of other names be involved (wink, wink), there is at least some drama left in the cut to the Chase this year.
Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have clinched spots and Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards (broken foot and all) and Kurt Busch are locks. From Ryan Newman in seventh back to Brian Vickers in 14th, the rest of the Chase field is anything but set. Here’s where each of the bubble drivers sits:
Ryan Newman (seventh, 84 points ahead of 13th): Many mentioned him as a strong possibility to miss the Chase after he floundered for a few weeks, but a sixth-place run at Bristol has righted the ship. He should be able to get through Atlanta and Richmond without falling out.
Greg Biffle (eighth, 75 points ahead of 13th): He was out a few weeks ago, which shows you what three consecutive top-five finishes can do this year. Biffle needs to run well this weekend because he struggles some at Richmond.
Juan Pablo Montoya (ninth, 64 points ahead of 13th): If not for some questionable calls on pit road he might already be in, but now he has to fight for a spot. To his credit, Montoya has excelled on the smaller tracks this year, making Sunday’s race at Atlanta even more crucial since he should be OK at Richmond.
Mark Martin (10th, 60 points ahead of 13th): Another driver who prefers Richmond to Atlanta, Martin has more to lose this weekend than anyone (40 potential Chase bonus points). He was running well in the spring before a flat tire at AMS, so with some decent luck he’ll be all right.
Kasey Kahne (11th, 52 points ahead of 13th): He’s struggled some of late, though his record at Atlanta is pretty solid. Kahne’s the biggest unknown of the top group.
Matt Kenseth (12th, 34 points ahead of 13th): What would a Chase be without Kenseth? He can go a long way toward putting that question off a year with a strong effort Sunday at AMS, where he usually manages a top-10.
Kyle Busch (13th, 34 points behind 12th): Despite a woefully inconsistent season, he still has a good shot to make it, especially considering he won at Atlanta last year and won the spring Richmond race this year.
Brian Vickers (14th, 39 points behind 12th): Considering his awful history at Richmond, where he has only one finish better than 24th, he better get it done this weekend to have a shot.
Eight drivers for six spots (unless you include Clint Bowyer, who’s 112 points out), giving us plenty to watch the next week.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...