Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for Each Top Driver in 2013

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2013

Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for Each Top Driver in 2013

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    As NASCAR gets closer to the Chase, the top drivers will be doing everything in their power to try and maintain their current positions in the standings.

    What will be the best and worst-case scenarios for each top driver heading into the postseason, though?

    Of course, the best situation for everyone would be to walk away with the championship, but realistically that's not going to happen.

    Drivers like Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson will have a strong advantage in the Chase, and any Ford driver who makes it in might have a hard time keeping up, since Ford drivers have struggled this season.

    For some drivers, making it into the Chase and finishing well enough through the postseason would be a huge accomplishment.

    Worst-case scenarios for most drivers will see them struggle, but some drivers are locked into the Chase, while others could stumble before the postseason begins and completely miss it.

    Here are the best and worst-case scenarios for the top-10 drivers as NASCAR inches closer to the Chase.

10. Tony Stewart

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    If one driver can come alive in the Chase, it's Tony Stewart.

    We saw "Smoke" come alive in the postseason in 2011 after he struggled to make it in.

    Now, after a rough start to the season, Stewart has bounced back and is sitting in 10th place. It's a huge improvement from where he was several weeks ago, and if he can keep his momentum, he should have no problem seeing the postseason.

    Of course, 10th isn't the best place to be, and he could get knocked out before the postseason starts. He hasn't run well this year at all, and until the 14 team figures out its issues, Smoke will continue to struggle.

    Best Case: Makes it into the Chase and is a threat for the title.

    Worst Case: Struggles before the postseason even starts and fails to make it into the Chase.

9. Kurt Busch

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    Kurt Busch, and the little team that could, are making a statement before the regular season ends.

    Busch is one of the best drivers in the sport, and even with only decent equipment, he's beating drivers who are racing on bigger teams.

    He sits ninth, which is huge for Furniture Row Racing. If he can continue to have solid finishes, he might make it into the Chase and bring the 78 team with him to its first postseason run.

    Unfortunately, he has no wins this season and could be knocked out of the standings with a couple of mistakes. The regular season isn't over yet, and if Busch wants to make the Chase, he needs to win at least one race.

    Best Case: Busch and the 78 team see the postseason.

    Worst Case: Busch goes another year without the Chase while driving for a small team.

8. Greg Biffle

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    While Greg Biffle is having a worse season than he had last year, he's made major improvements over the last several weeks.

    He earned one win, and if he can hold his place in the standings, he'll make it into the Chase for a second year in a row.

    He stands no real chance of winning the championship, but with the way Ford has been underperforming, making it into the Chase would be a big accomplishment.

    Biffle might stumble as the regular season comes to a close and fail to make it into the Chase. He has to keep finishing in the top 10, because sitting in eighth with only one win isn't enough to safely lock him into the postseason.

    Best Case: Biffle makes it into the Chase.

    Worst Case: He fails to see the postseason.

7. Kyle Busch

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    Kyle Busch is having a great regular season, and while he doesn't have as many wins as his teammate Matt Kenseth, Busch has run well in almost every race.

    His two wins so far will help him in the Chase, making him a strong contender for the title. 

    Will he be able to win it, though?

    There’s no doubt that Kyle is one of the best drivers in NASCAR, and while he has a solid chance to win the championship, he probably has the same chance to fall apart in the Chase.

    He missed the postseason last year and looks like a solid lock-in this year, but whether he has a realistic chance to win the championship remains up for discussion.

    Best Case: He silences his haters with a championship win.

    Worst Case: The haters are correct, and Busch falls apart in the postseason.

6. Matt Kenseth

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    If one driver has stood toe-to-toe with Jimmie Johnson this season, it's been Matt Kenseth. His four wins might not exactly shock you, since he is a top driver, but four wins are tremendous for a team that's only been together since the start of the 2013 season.

    Kenseth will start off as a top driver when the Chase starts, and if he can keep performing at a high level, Toyota might finally earn its first championship.

    However, nothing in NASCAR is as easy as it seems, and the Chase is no different. Kenseth might look like a champion now, but how will he, and the rest of the 20 team, handle the pressure of the postseason?

    We've seen the best fall apart when chasing the championship, and the same thing might happen to Kenseth.

    Best Case: Kenseth and the 20 team dominate all the way to Toyota's first championship.

    Worst Case: The pressure of the Chase claims another top driver, as the 20 team stumbles and fails to deliver.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to be doing the same thing he did last year. He's been finishing strong to help get him into the Chase.

    It's hard to see Junior winning the Sprint Cup championship. After all, over the past two years, the main reason for a driver winning the championship was because he was able to win several races in the Chase.

    Winning is something Earnhardt seems to struggle with, and unless he can somehow turn it around, the best case-scenario would see him finish well throughout the Chase.

    Last year, Earnhardt made it into the postseason but was taken out for several races after suffering a concussion. Hopefully that won't happen to him this year, but a worst-case scenario would be him falling apart in the Chase and failing to capitalize on a solid season.

    Best case: Junior continues to be consistent.

    Worst case: He struggles in the postseason and finishes the season with a whimper.

4. Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick sits in fourth place and has had a better season so far than he did in 2012.

    Harvick could go into the Chase and compete strongly for the championship one last time before leaving Richard Childress Racing. Winning the Sprint Cup Title seems like a stretch, but don't expect the Closer to go into the Chase and not put up a fight.

    While Harvick does have two wins so far this season, he also has two DNFs. Unless he's going for the win, "The Closer" is almost unheard of during a race. A worst-case scenario then is the driver moving into the postseason and failing to do anything in his last year with RCR.

    Best case: Harvick enters the Chase and looks like a contender for the title.

    Worst case: His last year in RCR turns out to be a dud.

3. Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards has made big strides from his 2012 season, but he isn't out of the water just yet.

    The best-case scenario for him at this point would be to go into the Chase and run well. He's going to have a hard time catching up with Johnson and Kenseth, and with Ford struggling this season, Edwards will most likely have trouble winning.

    With the postseason almost here, it's hard to see Edwards not making it into the Chase, but a worst-case scenario would see him barely eke in and continue to struggle once the postseason starts.

    Best case: He finishes strong by the end of the season.

    Worst case: He starts to fall apart before the Chase even begins.

2. Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer has slowly moved up the standings and now sits in second place. The runner-up to last year's championship is securing his place in the postseason, regardless of wins.

    The best-case scenario for Bowyer would be to head into the postseason with at least a win and put on a strong performance.

    Will he be able to win the championship, though?

    Bowyer is a strong driver, but with Kenseth and Johnson running so well, he is going to have a tough time keeping up.

    The worst-case scenario would be for the 15 team to head into the Chase with no wins and already be down several points. He will more than likely continue to have good finishes, but if he can't win races, he won't win the championship.

    Best Case: Bowyer wins races heading into the Chase and looks like a threat for the championship.

    Worst Case: The 15 team fails to win any races in the regular season and lacks the momentum to win a race in the Chase as well.

1. Jimmie Johnson

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    The best-case scenario for Jimmie Johnson is, like every driver on this list, to win the championship. Winning the Sprint Cup title, though, would mean much more to him than simply being a champion.

    Johnson didn’t win the title last year, and even back in 2011, he ran into early issues in the Chase that took him out of the running as the season ended.

    Winning in 2013 would prove that Johnson is still the man to beat in NASCAR and would inch him closer to being on the same level as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

    The worst-case scenario would be for him to make it into the Chase and fail to get the job done once again. He's had an amazing regular season so far, and while we should expect him to be strong in the Chase, he has had an issue with restarts this year.

    Best Case: Johnson wins his sixth championship and remains the man to beat.

    Worst Case: He struggles in the Chase, failing to capitalize on regular-season momentum.