HAMPTON, Ga._ With only two races left before the 12-driver field is set for the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup, only two drivers enter this weekend’s race locked in the Chase. Points leader Kevin Harvick and second-place Jeff Gordon have already secured a spot in NASCAR’s version of the post-season, but this weekend the remaining 10 drivers in the top-12 have a chance to leave Atlanta with a place in the Chase.
While each of the 10 have a mathematical shot to head to Richmond locked in the Chase, some have better shot than others. Bristol winner Kyle Busch simply needs to finish 40th or better with no laps led, 42nd or better with one lap led and can finish Sunday’s Emory Healthcare 500 in 43rd and still lock himself into the Chase.
For the remaining nine drivers, it is going to take a bit of work.
Using consistency over the last two months, Carl Edwards has climbed from the Chase bubble to enter this weekend’s race fourth in the standings. Since his 25th place run in New Hampshire, Edwards has compiled six top-10s in the past seven races. A three-time winner in Atlanta, Edwards needs to finish 21st or better with no laps led, 23rd with one lap led and 25th or better with the most laps led to clinch his spot in the Chase.
One of the hottest drivers earlier in the season, Denny Hamlin hit a mid-season slump after winning back-to-back races at Pocono and Michigan in June. In the nine races since, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 34th or worst. This weekend Hamlin will have to finish 20th or better with no laps led, 22nd or better if he leads a lap and 23rd or better if he leads the most. Hamlin is tied for the most wins on the season with five, giving him 50 bonus points heading into the Chase.
Winless thus far in 2010, Tony Stewart has flown under the radar this season, but sits sixth in the standings. To lock his spot up in the Chase this weekend, Stewart will have to finish 19th or better with no laps led, 21st with one lap led and 23rd or better with the most laps led.
Also winless this year, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth sit seventh and eighth in the standings respectively heading into this weekend’s race. For Burton to secure a Chase spot he will have to finish 17th or better with no laps led, 19th with one lap led and 21st or better if he leads the most laps. Kenseth will need to finish 15th or better with no laps led, 17th with one lap led and 19th or better with the most laps led.
Defending four-time champion Jimmie Johnson has lost that coveted ‘golden horseshoe’ as of late, scoring only one top-10 since his back-to-back wins in Sonoma and New Hampshire. Instead, Johnson has five finishes of 22nd or worse, which has dropped him to ninth in the standings. If he plans on locking up a spot in the Chase before the final race in Richmond, Johnson will have to finish 10th with no laps led, 11th with one lap led and 13th with the most laps led. Johnson is a three-time winner at Atlanta and enters the race with five wins on the season, tied with Hamlin for the most. If he can lock up a place in the Chase, Johnson will become the only driver to compete in each of the seven Chases.
Right on the heels of Johnson is Kurt Busch. The two have battled throughout the entire year and cannot seem to get away from each other. Holding down the 10th spot in the standings, Busch will have to finish ninth or better with no laps led, 10th or better with one lap led and 11th if he leads the most laps.
With a comfortable 235 point buffer over 12th, Greg Biffle enters this weekend 11th in the standings. With 10 bonus points thanks to his win in Pocono, Biffle will need to finish fourth or better with no laps led, fifth or better with one lap led and seventh if he leads the most laps.
Sitting in the 12th and final transfer spot with two races to go is Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer. Up-and-down runs this year have put the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet in the bubble spot with a 100 point advantage over Jamie McMurray in 13th. Of the 12 Chase eligible drivers, Bowyer has the longest shot at locking up a Chase berth. In order to do so, he will need to gain 96 points over 13th place.
While those already in the top-12 are looking to add more bonus points before the Chase begins in New Hampshire, there are three drivers still trying to claw their way into the Chase. Jamie McMurray sits 100 points behind Bowyer, while Mark Martin is only one point behind McMurray. Ryan Newman is not far behind in 13th, 118 points out of the Chase with two races remaining. If McMurray, Martin or Newman can overcome their deficit and find a spot in the Chase, it will be the largest comeback in the history of the Chase. In 2006, Kasey Kahne was able to overcome a 90 point deficit to race his way into the Chase.
With so many agendas on the track over the next two weeks, there is sure to be a lot of excitement both in Atlanta this weekend and Richmond next weekend. Most of the top-12 are racing for wins to add bonus points, Bowyer will probably try to play it safe and stay out of trouble, while McMurray, Martin and Newman are doing all they can to make it into the post-season.
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