Today’s pop quiz: what do Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Stewart have in common? Well actually, two things come to mind: all five of these drivers have been in the Chase since its 2004 inception, and secondly, if the Chase started today, they would be on the outside looking in. Fortunately for this quintet, there are four more races to go, and there are drivers ahead of them currently in the Chase grid who don’t have a win.
The good news is that four of these drivers have wins at the final four tracks before the race begins. Biffle has four wins at Michigan, and Vickers has also visited victory lane at the Brooklyn, Michigan venue. Kahne has wins at all four tracks- including two at Atlanta. Stewart’s illustrious career has included wins at all four- including three apiece at Atlanta and Richmond.
It won’t be easy. While Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano are already locked in with multiple wins, nine spots remain up for grabs. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch all have wins, but all sit between 15th and 24th in the overall standings. Assuming none have a complete collapse- and somehow finish outside the top 30- that really only leaves four spots to be claimed by winless drivers on points.
If the Chase started today, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman’s point totals would get them into the 16 driver playoff. Any one or all of those four are strong candidates to nab a win by Richmond’s end, so you can see a crowded field charging like hungry hounds fighting over a pork chop as the schedule winds down.
When you add to that the names of Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, and Marcos Ambrose as winless drivers inside the top 20, there are an insane number of scenarios that could play out. Not the least of these are the fates of AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch, who all sit outside the top 20 and COULD find themselves on the outside looking in if a major slump hits.
Kahne, Biffle, Stewart, Vickers and Truex have their challenges. Kahne has fallen victim to bad luck. Biffle’s team- Roush Fenway Racing- has lost its status as Ford’s flagship team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Vickers, like Kahne, has experienced a roller coaster. It’s not even a given that Stewart will race at Michigan, while the tragic incident he was a part of works itself out. As is this is being written, we learned that Truex’s girlfriend is battling ovarian cancer, so for starters, Matt Crafton will pilot his 78 car at practice and qualifying at Michigan.
It’s quite an eclectic group of upstarts and established racing veterans vying for Chase berths. Who will emerge victorious? One thing is for certain in 2014, nothing’s certain.