Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon Starting to Sweat as the Chase Looms

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon Starting to Sweat as the Chase Looms
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers made it into last year's Chase for the first time ever. But after Sunday's race at Watkins Glen, could Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon potentially still miss the playoffs if they continue to struggle in the next four races?

It's ironic how quickly fortunes in NASCAR can change with just the outcome of one race.

A week ago, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 13 at Pocono Raceway and occupied four of the top nine spots in the Sprint Cup standings for the first time this season.

Fans and media alike were already talking about the possibility of not only all four drivers making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but potentially making it a 1-2-3-4 finish at the end of the 10-race Chase.

But after Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, what looked so promising a week ago for HMS now looks a lot more iffy.

Let's break things down:

Jimmie Johnson, who continues to lead the Sprint Cup standings for the 19th of 22 weeks, finished eighth Sunday and all but assured himself a guaranteed berth in the Chase.

It was all downhill from there, though.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a disappointing 30th and dropped one spot in the standings from fifth to sixth. Even worse, Earnhardt is now just 55 points ahead of 10th-ranked Martin Truex Jr.

Sure, with just four races left until the Chase, Junior's chances of not making the 10-race playoff are slim—but mathematically, it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Kasey Kahne finished 34th Sunday and dropped four spots to 12th in the standings. Even so, Kahne is at the top of the list of the few drivers who likely will make the Chase as a wild card.

So even though Kahne is currently ranked 12th, he actually may have a better chance of making the Chase than Earnhardt; Kahne has two wins while Junior has none.

Jeff Bottari/Getty Images
Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon still be smiling five weeks from now when the Chase begins?

And then there's the tale of Jeff Gordon, the worst finisher of the four HMS drivers Sunday, ending up a disappointing 36th place.

Worse, Gordon dropped from ninth to 13th place in the standings and without even one win thus far this season, Gordon is on the outside looking in at the Chase.

He has to get nothing less than a top-10 finish in each of the last four pre-Chase races—Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond—and that still may not be enough to make the playoff for what would be only the second time in his Cup career.

Yes, it's funny how fickle fate is in NASCAR. Last week, we were talking about a potential Hendrick romp and sweep in the Chase.

Now, with four races left to make it, we ultimately may only see three or maybe even two of the four Hendrick drivers make the Chase.

Something tells me that over the next four races, Johnson is going to take a few steps back so that his three teammates can take several steps forward to assure they make the Chase.

Do you agree? Let's hear your thoughts.

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