Are Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch Out of Reach in 2013 Chase?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2013

Have Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch (not pictured) already checked out on the 10 other Chase contenders after just three races?
Have Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch (not pictured) already checked out on the 10 other Chase contenders after just three races?Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

One of the most ironic parts of human nature is the degree to which sports fans obsess, particularly NASCAR fans.

When Jimmie Johnson was on his run of five straight championships from 2006-2010, I can't count the number of fans who wrote me, called in on the radio or ran into me at racetracks, asking the same question over and over again:

"Jimmie looks like he's got another title wrapped up, doesn't he?" they'd say.

And that was typically after only the first two or three races.

I used to laugh at their foolhardiness—although admittedly, Johnson did go on to do what they had predicted and hoped.

I'd say to myself, "Are you serious? Giving up on the other Chase drivers already? Come on people, there's still seven or eight races left to go (at the time)!"

But as we head into the fourth race of the 10th edition of the Chase, I'm not laughing this time.

If Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and—of course—Johnson have another strong race this Sunday at Kansas, what started as a 13-driver Chase just three weeks ago may become only a three-driver playoff in the remaining month and a half.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the Chase standings, Kenseth, Johnson and Busch have jumped out to a commanding lead over the other 10 drivers in the 10-race Chase.

Buoyed by wins in the first two Chase races, Kenseth remains the points leader for the third straight week heading into Kansas, with 2,149 points. Right on his tail is Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is coming off one of the more dominating performances of his career this past Sunday at Dover, where he won for a record eighth time and significantly closed the gap on Kenseth to just an eight-point margin.

And then there's Busch, who finished runner-up to Kenseth in the first two Chase races, at only 12 points behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate with the first three Chase races now past.

The next closest drivers are Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, tied for fourth at 39 points back—almost a full race worth of points in arrears.

At the opposite end of the 13-driver Chase spectrum are 11th-ranked Carl Edwards (65 points back), 12th-ranked Joey Logano (66) and 13th-ranked Kasey Kahne bringing up the rear at 78 points back.

Suddenly, the margin behind Kenseth for those bottom three stragglers is a race-and-a-half or more in points.

Even if they were to go on one of the greatest rallies in NASCAR history and won the remaining seven races, it's questionable, at best, if Edwards (who dropped an unconscionable seven places in the standings after Dover), Logano and Kahne would still be able to overtake Kenseth, Johnson and Busch by the season finale at Homestead.

It used to be that typically the seventh race of the Chase was the demarcation line to who still had a chance—even if it was solely mathematical or in theory—at the championship.

From there on out, it would be a three-race championship battle for perhaps three, four or maybe five remaining drivers in contention.

But in the current edition of the Chase, things have gone completely topsy-turvy. Rather than being at a point where we're seven races down and three races to go to see only a select few battle it out for the championship, we're now staring at the exact opposite:

With just three races down and seven to go, the Chase may already be over for at least three drivers—and potentially quite a few more after Sunday's race at Kansas.

As much as that statement doesn't console fans of Edwards, Logano, Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th place, 57 points back), Kurt Busch (9th, 55), Clint Bowyer (8th, 51), Ryan Newman (7th, 48) and Greg Biffle (6th, 41), it's potential reality.

If you would have told me before last Sunday's race that Edwards would have gone from serious challenger to almost out of it, I would have ignored you. Heck, I even wrote a column here on Bleacher Report that Edwards was potentially in the best place to avenge losing the 2011 Cup championship by a simple tiebreaker.

Then came Dover and Edwards, who had been flying under the radar for most of the season—in a good way, that is—suddenly disappeared off the radio.

And that's most definitely not in a good way.

Like many NASCAR fans, I'm looking forward to Sunday's race at Kansas to see if any of the other 10 can mount a rally and get back into Chase contention.

If not, those 10 are going to know what the 30 other guys that fell short of making the Chase feel like.

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