Which Drivers Still Have Chance at a Title Halfway Through 2013 NASCAR Chase?

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Which Drivers Still Have Chance at a Title Halfway Through 2013 NASCAR Chase?
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
You can almost hear Clint Bowyer telling Dale Earnhardt Jr., "Hey, it was a great Chase for us -- while it lasted."

Unless point leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson suddenly forget how to drive in the remaining five races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Saturday's race at Charlotte all but ended championship hopes for six of this year's 13 playoff qualifiers.

In effect, this year's Chase is now down to a seven-man battle. After next Sunday's race at Talladega, it could be down to five or less.

With Charlotte being the halfway point of the 10-race Chase, any driver that left there 60 or more points behind Kenseth and Johnson Saturday night can forget about the rest of this season and start looking ahead to 2014.

Sorry to tell you that—fans of Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne.

But, the facts are the facts.

Even Kahne, who came into Saturday night's race 83 points behind Kenseth in the standings and last in the 13-driver Chase field, couldn't make any headway. He all but won the race, ultimately finishing second to winner Brad Keselowski.

For all his effort, hard work and for leading in laps en route to a runner-up showing, would you care to guess how many points Kahne shaved off Kenseth's lead?

Two.

Kahne did everything possible to break out of the cellar of the Chase standings on Saturday. Even if he had won the race, the most he likely would have moved up to would have been 12th place, currently occupied by Ryan Newman, who is three points ahead of Kahne.

With six drivers likely already too far out in the Chase standings after Charlotte, how many potential championship challengers will remain in contention after next Sunday's race at Talladega?

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If that's how little forward progress Kahne could make against the ultra-consistent Kenseth and Johnson, it's pretty clear that whatever Bowyer, Edwards, Earnhardt, Logano and Newman also do in the five remaining races will likely be for naught.

Simply put, they're all too far back to make any type of rally in the second half of the Chase.

They may move up maybe a spot or two by the time of the season finale at Homestead in five weeks, but the engravers of the Sprint Cup Trophy can set aside the names template of those six drivers for another year.

And if sixth-ranked Greg Biffle (58 points back) and seventh-place Kurt Busch (59 back) both don't have spectacular races at Talladega—while also hoping Kenseth and Johnson potentially end up in one of Dega's infamous standings-tightening "big ones"—they too can wipe visions of a 2013 Cup title from their minds.

What's more, if Kevin Harvick (third place, 29 points back), Jeff Gordon (fourth, 36) and Kyle Busch (fifth, 37) each have bad days at Talladega, we could potentially wind up with a two-driver sprint for the championship in the remaining four races of the Chase.

That would mirror how the 2011 Chase played out, when it was only Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards left to contend for the crown in the final three races.

Everyone else had pretty much been eliminated by that point.

It's hard to pick against Kenseth and Johnson right now. They've done everything the need to do, have shown uncanny consistency. Where they both rank in the standings proves that.

Talladega and the following week's race at Martinsville—the two biggest wild card events in the Chase—could likely solidify that it will be solely a Matt and Jimmie show the rest of the way.

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
We can almost imagine Kasey Kahne thinking to himself, "Two points was all I gained after Saturday night's race?"

But if Kenseth and Johnson do get derailed in wrecks at Talladega (more likely) and Martinsville (less likely), it'll be up to the other Chase drivers to capitalize.

Then again, Kahne tried to capitalize on having the best race car and a runner-up finish at Charlotte. He did everything that could be asked from a driver, and yet look where and what it got him.

If two points were all Kahne could gain on the leaders Saturday night, it's hard to rationalize just how Harvick, Gordon, Kyle Busch, Biffle and Kurt Busch think they can still come back in the final five races.


Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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