2014 Sprint Cup Chase Bubble: Who's in and Who's out with 3 Races Left?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

2014 Sprint Cup Chase Bubble: Who's in and Who's out with 3 Races Left?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Win, and you're in.

    With three races remaining to qualify for the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup, making the expanded 16-driver playoff field couldn't be simpler: You take the checkered flag and you're in the Chase.

    So, with that trio of races remaining—Saturday night at Bristol, the following Sunday at Atlanta and then the final pre-Chase event at Richmond—has anyone closed in, or is the bubble still pretty large?

    Here's how things look with those three races left, and how I see things shaking out.

In: Ryan Newman

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    USA TODAY Sports

    While he's not completely comfortably in the Chase just yet, it would take a complete meltdown or incredibly bad luck in at least two of the three remaining races to knock Ryan Newman out of the playoffs.

    Still, anything can happen. Look at the vicious wreck he was involved in two weeks ago at Watkins Glen.

    Right now, we predict Newman is in the Chase. Now he just has to hold on to his spot in the standings. While a win would be great and ensure that he makes the Chase, Newman may actually be in more of a defensive role in order to protect where he's at right now.

Out: Kyle Larson

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    What a difference a week makes. Prior to Michigan, we thought Kyle Larson would be a lock to make the Chase, not to mention win the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year.

    But after having early trouble at Michigan, including his car catching fire, Larson dropped four spots in the standings, from 10th to 14th.

    It gets worse: He's now 24 points behind the final driver on the positive side of the Chase bubble ledger, Greg Biffle.

    And the other top contender for Rookie of the Year, Austin Dillon, has now passed Larson as well, leading the latter by four points in the standings.

In: Clint Bowyer

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    USA TODAY Sports

    While Clint Bowyer is listed as 15th in the 16-driver pre-Chase eligibility grid, we're still not 100 percent convinced he'll make it (and if he does, he'd be the only Michael Waltrip Racing driver to make the Chase, barring Brian Vickers making it via a win in the final three races).

    That being said, Bowyer historically does well at Richmond, which has to be the place he clinches his Chase berth. But it would sure be helpful to his cause if he can come out of Bristol and Atlanta with top-10 finishes, for sure.

Out: Kasey Kahne

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    USA TODAY Sports

    While Kasey Kahne is only nine points behind Biffle for the 16th and final Chase spot, if another driver who has yet to win this season—including Matt Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer or Biffle—earn a win at Bristol or Atlanta, Kahne's Chase chances are all but done.

    He'd be left with a must-win situation at Richmond.

    While that would be a difficult scenario, it wouldn't be completely out of the question for Kahne to win at Richmond, where he's visited Victory Lane before.

    And if he does win at Richmond, consider the incredible drama of qualifying for the Chase at the last possible minute.

In: Matt Kenseth

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    Associated Press

    Take it to the bank: Kenseth is in the Chase. No ifs, ands or buts.

    Even if Kenseth, who led the Sprint Cup Series last season with seven wins, still remains winless in the next three events, he'll make the Chase for sure based on two things: consistency and where he's at in the points (currently fifth).

    Once Kenseth starts the Chase, don't be surprised if he starts winning. We think he's good for at least two wins in the Chase, even if he enters the playoffs without any regular-season wins.

Out: Austin Dillon

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    Right now, Dillon is on the outside of the Chase looking in.

    But with being ranked 13th in the overall standings and just 22 points behind the final Chase qualifying spot held by Biffle, heading into this Saturday's race at Bristol, Dillon has a chance—albeit slim—to make the playoffs.

    He'd have to have top-10 finishes in each of the next three races to make it—and that might even not be quite enough.

    Further, let's just say the stats aren't exactly in Dillon's favor. He's managed just one top-five and three top-10s in the first 23 races.

    Those results don't reflect good odds to make the Chase, indeed.

    But if he still manages to win a race, that's a whole different story.

In: Greg Biffle

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    USA TODAY Sports

    For now, Biffle is in the Chase. But there's no cushion or wiggle room. He's the final driver of the top 16 by either wins or overall points.

    That doesn't mean Biffle will stay there. Anything can happen in the final three pre-Chase races, and the Biff could as easily be on the outside looking in when the final 16-driver Chase grid is finalized after Richmond.

    For now, he's in. Next week? It could be a whole different scenario.

Out: Marcos Ambrose

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's looking more and more like Marcos Ambrose will not be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR next season.

    After all, if Ambrose really wanted to stay with RPM, he should have announced he's reached an agreement to remain with the team by now, don't you think?

    Even Carl Edwards finally confirmed earlier this week that he'll be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing next season, per Crash.net. And Edwards is securely in the Chase.

    What is Ambrose waiting for? To make the Chase before he stays at RPM?

    Or is he simply playing out the string on the final year of his contract with RPM and preparing to move back to his native Australia?

    Just sayin'.

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski