Ten-race chase has 4 spots remaining

Published 9:48 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

After the first 22 races of the 2009 season, there are only six drivers that have pretty much wrapped up a spot in the ten-race chase for the Sprint Cup championship. That leaves four races for six more racers to earn their way in, or fall their way out, of the chase field.

After last Monday’s race at Watkins Glen, the top six in the points standings did not change, but five of the six drivers in positions seven through twelve changed spots. The points standings among those who could jump in or fall out of contention has really tightened over the last few weeks.

Only 195 points separate Juan Montoya in seventh position and Clint Bowyer in 15th. And given the fact the points difference earned from first to last place in one race is 161 points, it wouldn’t take long for the standing to tighten even more.

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Of the current driver in the top-12, I think one driver falls out and another driver not currently eligible jumps in. Given the remaining races at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond, I believe that Greg Biffle falls from his current spot in tenth to miss the chase field.

Biffle runs well at Michigan, the site of this week’s race, but is subpar at the remaining three tracks. If Biffle falls out, then who comes in?

I said last week that Kyle Busch is stronger when is the hunted instead of the hunter, but I think he is the guy that takes Biffle’s place in the chase field. Currently 58 points from the final chase position, Busch will win one of the next four races, most likely at Richmond, and earn the last spot in the chase.

Whatever happens, the next four races should be fun to watch as teams jockey and take chances to earn a chance to compete for the championship.

One driver that doesn’t have to worry about the pressure that comes with trying to make the chase is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Clearly the most disappointing and underachieving driver of the 2009 season, Junior would be better off trying to get top-20s and planning for next season.

After having brake issues at Watkins Glen, Junior dropped two more spots in the standings, landing in 25th position. That puts him behind such superstars as AJ Allemendinger, Casey Mears, rookie Marcos Ambrose, and baby-faced rookie Joey Logano.

Junior has an unbelievable one top-five and three top-ten finishes through the first 22 races. One top-five, that’s unreal for a driver of Junior’s supposed talent. But more incredible is that he is driving for the sport’s best team with the sport’s best equipment. Hendrick’s other three teams are in second, third, and 11th. And the drivers in the top spot, Tony Stewart, and ninth spot, Ryan Newman, are Hendrick cousins and drive Hendrick cars.

So, by my count, that is five drivers in the top 11 and one driver in 25th. What’s wrong with this picture? Heck, Junior’s protégé, Brad Keselowski, has had a better Sprint Cup season, than Junior—in 15 less races. Keselowski has the same number of top-fives, the same number of top-tens, and, most importantly, a win.

Let’s hope the weather holds this weekend and we actually race on raceday at Michigan. Kurt Busch is my pick to win Sunday.