3 races to go before the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup chase for the championship begins. Tony Stewart the points leader by 284 points over Jeff Gordon with 3 wins clinched his spot by just start Sunday at Michigan. Jeff Gordon has to finish 6th or better at Bristol to clinch , and Jimmie Johnson has to finish 2nd or better (which would be clearly 1st) at Bristol in order to clinch. 4th place Carl Edwards, 5th place Denny Hamlin, and 6th place Kurt Busch must all be feeling really good about their chances of being in the chase (though due to Kurt Busch having a dnf and getting credited with a 36th place finish he is now 178 points ahead of 13th and losing as many points as he did at Michigan he can't "go all out" so to speak for fear is he loses another 100 points at Bristol he will only be 78 points ahead of 13th). The battle begins however at 7th.
7th Juan Pablo Montoya, ahead of 13th:108 points
Juan Pablo Montoya is certainly having a breakout season. Though no wins and only 1 top five he has 11 top tens and has been a perfect model of consistency and points racing. Brain Pattie has really made this driver get on the agenda to points race to solidify a place in the chase and it is working because he is having his best season ever.
In or Out? :IN
8th Kasey Kahne, ahead of 13th:105 points
Kasey Kahne has 1 win, 3 top fives, 9 top tens and is in a similar spot he was in last year. In the chase at this point in 2008 only to get caught up in a wreck at Bristol and knock himself out of the top 12 in points only to never return. The last 2 races Kasey has been losing points but he runs great at Bristol, and has won at Atlanta and Richmond.
In or Outt?:IN
9th Ryan Newman, ahead of 13th: 66 points
Ryan Newman has 5 top fives, 9 top tens and is having his best season since 2005 when he made the chase and finished 6th in points. Though winless he has done a great job in the 2nd Stewart Haas racing car. He has been faltering the last few races but with top fifteens at Indy, Pocono and Michigan it has kept him at pay from dropping out of the top ten in points. He is the track record holder at Bristol and ran 7th there in the Spring, had a top 10 car at Atlanta only top go down a notch on the motor, and had a car capable of winning Richmond. Look for Stewart Haas racing to make sure Newman is in the chase.
In or Out?:IN
10th Greg Biffle, ahead of 13th:42 points
Greg Biffle has had an up and down season. With finishes of 5th despite running out of gas at the June race at Michigan, to finishing 31st because he flat out struggled at Chicagoland. Roush is having a down year even despite Edwards being 4th in points who has no wins in the 2009 season. Greg finished 38th at the previous Bristol race, 34th at the previous Atlanta race, and 17th at the Previous Richmond race this year. Don't expect much different.
In or Out:OUT
11th Matt Kenseth, ahead of 13th:32 points
Matt started the 2009 season better than nobody else. Infact he had one of the best start in the history of the sport by winning the first 2 races. But he has only 2 top fives since then and 6 more top tens. He hasn't performed as well as we thought Matt Kenseth would perform on tracks like Chicagoland and Michigan. But they don't call Matt Kenseth Mr. Consistency for nothing. He finished 33rd at Bristol, but finished 12th at Atlanta and 13th at Richmond. Look for him to rack up the top 15 finishes.
In or Out?:IN
12th Mark Martin, ahead of 13th:12 points
Mark has won 4 races this year. Yet he has 7 finishes of 30th or worse. This inconsistency has put him in a spot where he isn't able to go for broke and must points race to hold his chase spot. Look for the 5 car to run strong in the next 3 races getting top tens at the very least in all of them.
In or Out?:IN
13th Brain Vickers, behind 12th:12 points
Brian Vickers is coming off a win and a huge confidence boost. Only 12 points behind 12th Brian has a great shot at making the chase. The only issues is Bristol and Richmond are not Brian's better race tracks. This driver and his redbull team can't seem to quite get their arms around the short track despite Vickers has the track record at Richmond and even won the pole there. Look for a strong run at Atlanta , but it might not be enough.
In or Out?:OUT
14th Clint Bowyer, behind 12th:58 points
Clint Bowyer continues to gain and gain more points on his quest to be 12th in points at the end of Richmond. He has gone from being 115 points out 3 races ago to being 58 points out. Clint runs very well in the next 3 race tracks and won at Richmond last year. RCR is throwing everything they can at the 33 team to help Clint get inside the chase and look for that to translate into some solid top ten finishes.
In out Out?:IN
15th Kyle Busch, behind 12th:70 points
Kyle Busch has 3 wins yet is 15th in points and dropping. He has struggled this season for the most part due to the constant bickering and put downs given to his team by him on the radio. tracks like Michigan, Chicagoland, Dover where he runs well he has struggled. He won at Bristol and Richmond this year, but was 18th 3 laps down at Atlanta. Right now the way things are it is hard to have any confidence in the 18 team. Look for them to continue to go down the performance chart.
In out Out?:OUT
Guy outside the top 12 that can make some noise
Dale Earnhardt Jr has had a rough season. It has been filled with badluck, part failures and mediocre runs. But with a 3rd place finish and leading laps at Michigan the 88 team is starting to turn it around. Look for him to continue to rack up the top fives and top tens the rest of the 13 races, focus on 2010, and maybe win a race at a place we call Talladega and maybe even Martinsvillie where has has 3 straight top tens.
Jamie McMurray has had 1 foot out the door since 2008 and is finally being set free. The driver has endured a great deal of badluck in 2009. In 2008 he made a Major comeback to have 4 top fives and 5 top tens in the final 6 races and led 70 laps. Look for him to have some good runs the rest for season at tracks like Bristol, Dover, Talladega, Lowes, Texas, Martinsvillie, and Auto Club. A place like Dover or Talladega could allow McMurray to reach victory lane.
Kevin Harvick by far has had the worst season out of the 2 mentioned being his last laps led was at Las Vegas 19 races ago. But has finished 6th, 12th, 35th (wrecked) and 12th the last 4 races. Look for the 29 team to continue to improve to make Kevin happy and to look forward to 2010. A place like Loudon or Talladega could give the 29 their chance at winning their first points race since the 2007 Daytona 500.