2014 Sprint Cup Chase Bubble: Who's in and Who's out with 4 Races Left?
With four races remaining to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the action is going to get hotter and heavier with each passing event.
Things begin this Sunday at the fastest non-restrictor plate track in NASCAR, the two-mile Michigan International Speedway.
From there, the Sprint Cup circuit moves to the half-mile high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway, the 1.5-mile fast track at Atlanta and wraps things up on the three-quarter-mile track at Richmond.
With four races left, there's four drivers right now who are on the right side of the Chase bubble, and another four who are on the outside looking in.
Which of those eight will be there when the final 16-driver Chase field is set after Richmond? No one knows the answer to that question yet, but here's how things look right now.
In: Matt Kenseth
Unless he finishes last in each of the last four races, Matt Kenseth is a likely lock to make the Chase.
Currently in third place in the Sprint Cup standings, what Kenseth has lacked in wins (he has yet to reach Victory Lane in 2014), he's more than made up for with great consistency.
Still, it's surprising that the same driver who won a series-leading seven races last season has yet to win even one thus far in the first 22 races of 2014.
Even so, we're not worried, Kenseth makes the Chase no matter what—either on points, or if he finally finds the way to a win in the remaining four pre-Chase events.
Out: Greg Biffle
Although he's 12th in the Sprint Cup standings right now, Biffle is not in the top 16 of the so-called Chase standings.
He's like every other driver who has yet to win a race this season but still has Chase hopes. He has to win one of the next four races to make the playoffs.
One good thing for Biffle and all of the other Chase wannabes: With four races left to make it and four open spots for drivers who have yet to win a race this season, the end result couldn't be simpler: Win and you're in.
In: Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman is tied for eighth in the regular Sprint Cup standings and is 14th in the 16-driver pre-Chase rankings.
As of this writing, Newman is in the Chase, but a win would ice things for him.
Tracks like Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond are coming up, and he has had good success at all of them.
All he has to do is finish first. Of course, that's a tall order.
Out: Kasey Kahne
Kasey Kahne has had a rough year; there's no question.
But at the same time, it shows his level of talent and ability to still be as high as 13th in the current Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway.
“It’s close, you know, to make the Chase,” Kahne said Wednesday, according to the The Telegraph (Macon). “We’re right on the edge. We want to be consistent for points, and if we can get a win, that’d be great, as well.”
Kahne typically does well on larger tracks such as MIS and Atlanta (in three weeks).
We feel confident that if anyone can win one of the next four races, particularly on those two fast tracks, it's Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
But until then, he's still out.
In: Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson keeps moving closer to not only clinching Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors, but also possibly pulling off the very rare achievement of being a Cup rookie who makes the Chase.
Larson is currently 10th in the regular Sprint Cup standings and 15th in the pre-Chase rankings.
Given his pedigree and success on short tracks, the best chance for Larson to win his first career Sprint Cup race will be next week at Bristol or four weeks from now in the final Chase qualifying event at Richmond.
His consistent success this season at a young age is unusual to some, including ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee, who wrote in his most recent power rankings:
You know who is more surprised than any of us about Kyle Larson's fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen? Kyle Larson. He finished eighth in his lone career Michigan start earlier this summer.
As good as he is on short tracks, he seems to be developing a knack for larger fast tracks as well, as evidenced by his earlier top 10 finish at Michigan.
Our guess: Larson wins one of the next four races to assure himself a Chase berth.
Out: Austin Dillon
Unless his luck changes dramatically—not just in the final four pre-Chase races, but also in the overall 14 races remaining this season—Austin Dillon will have had a good but not great Sprint Cup rookie season.
He's driven admirably and also helped bring back the revered No. 3 car to the Cup series with dignity after a 13-year absence following the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Unfortunately, while Dillon has had some good outings, and he's 14th in this week's Sprint Cup standings, our feeling boils down to a well-worn phrase: close, but no cigar.
In: Clint Bowyer
This was the most difficult choice to make.
Bowyer is right on the bubble in both the Sprint Cup driver standings (11th) and the pre-Chase rankings (16th). His fortunes can go either way in the next four races.
Much like Kasey Kahne, Bowyer has also had a rough season to date. He's definitely not had the kind of season that we've come to expect from him.
Right now, he's on the right side of the bubble. But we may be saying something entirely different in the next three weeks after this Sunday's race at Michigan.
Out: Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose had his best shot to make the Chase in this past Sunday's race at Watkins Glen.
A two-time winner there previously, he almost made it three—but A.J. Allmendinger got past Ambrose late in the race and held on for his first career Sprint Cup race.
So as we head to Michigan, Allmendinger is likely in the Chase, while Ambrose is not.
Can Ambrose still make the Chase? Just like every other driver who hasn't won this year, the only way he can make the playoffs is with a win.
Unfortunately, Ambrose has never won on an oval in his Sprint Cup career. Both of his wins to date have been on road courses (both at Watkins Glen).
Right now, we consider him the longest of long shots on either side of the Chase bubble.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski