JOCKEYING FOR FINAL CHASE SPOT HEATING UP
Date: Wed Jul 02, 2008 8:02 am
Topic: NASCAR NEWS
Who will be the odd man out? At the moment, Matt Kenseth is outside the Chase cutoff, ranking 13th in the standings. But he's only 15 points behind Kevin Harvick in 12th and only 41 away from ninth-place Tony Stewart.
Including the three above, five drivers are in the danger zone of becoming the guy who falls just short of making the playoff when the Chase begins in September. And of course, more than one of them could miss. Kasey Kahne in 10th and Clint Bowyer in 11th also are in the precarious vicinity of the dreaded No. 13 ranking.
Nine races remain before the Chase field is set. It's NASCAR's version of the dog days of summer. So who will stay and who will go after the hot months are over? Here's a look at each man's chances:
Stewart: If things balance out over time, Stewart is headed for one of the best hot streaks of his career. No one in the series has raced better with little to show for it in the first half of the season.
Stewart easily could have earned four or five wins had the breaks gone his way. He had the dominant car last weekend at New Hampshire and led 132 laps, but pit strategy before rain shortened the event caused him to finish 13th.
Look for Stewart's luck to change. He's always been a second-half driver. All but four of his 32 career victories have come after May 31.
Stewart may be on his way to a future as a team owner at Haas/CNC Racing. The constant talk about his future has been a distraction for the No. 20 Toyota team. Stewart probably will announce his plans soon.
It's an awkward situation, but he's still one of the best drivers in Cup. And he's driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the hottest organization in the series. Don't be surprised if you see him ranked in the top five with a couple of victories when Chase time comes.
Kahne: After sweeping the two Cup events at Lowe's in May and winning at Pocono in June, it appeared Kahne finally had turned things around and was ready to contend again.
But Kahne has taken a step backward the past two events. He was 33rd at Sonoma and 30th at New Hampshire. Will the real Kahne please step up?
Bowyer: He was fourth in the road race at Infineon two weeks ago, but that's the only time Bowyer has finished better than 22nd in the past six races. He's fallen seven spots in the standings since his win at Richmond in May.
That victory was the last in a string of seven consecutive top-10s. Unless he finds his way out of the current slump and back to the top-10 racer he was earlier, Bowyer may find himself racing for 13th in the final 10 events.
Harvick: He's struggling a bit like Bowyer, his teammate at Richard Childress Racing. Harvick has gone seven consecutive races without a top-10 finish, falling five spots in the standings in the past five races. He had four top-10s in his first five races but has had only one in his 12 starts since.
I'll go out on a limb here and predict one of these two RCR boys will not make the playoff.
Kenseth: He fell back below the cutoff point with an 18th-place finish at New Hampshire, but don't be fooled. This is a driver and a team on the rise. Kenseth had finished eighth or better in the previous six races.
Kenseth and the No. 17 Ford crew moved up 10 positions in that span to reach the No. 12 spot before the race last weekend. He'll be back.
A lot can happen in nine races, so a few guys outside these five still could get in or fall out. Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and David Ragan still have a slim shot to get hot and reach the top 12.
But for now, five drivers are vying for four spots, and one of them won't be happy when the Chase begins. - espn.com