With only four races to go until the chase begins, one thing is quite obvious. There will be some drivers fortunate to be in and others who will be out. The top 12 seem to switch on a week-by-week basis and a wreck or mechanical failure in one race could ruin a driver's season.
With that said, I will offer my predictions for the 12 chase drivers. I will list them from first through 12th position, after Richmond and before they reset the points, and will also offer my reasoning behind the picks.
1. Kyle Busch
First, duh, will be Kyle Busch. Kyle has already locked himself into the chase and the top spot. But don't think Kyle will stop going out there and competing. He already will enter the chase at New Hampshire with a 50-point advantage. But, knowing Kyle, even with this leg up he will try and win everything he enters, regardless of the scenario.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson has been on fire recently, and has climbed up to a comfortable position with only four races remaining. The team seems to have found their stride at the right time. The team that wins at the Brickyard, historically, has fared very well when it comes to the championship.
3. Carl Edwards
If it hadn't been for that infraction that robbed Carl of 100 points and the 10 points awarded for a win in the chase, he would only be 40 points out right now. Even so, Carl has arguably been one of the most consistent drivers in the Cup Series.
Edwards has a series-high 16 top 10 finishes and is second with nine top five finishes. It seems that Carl rarely has two consecutive poor finishes. That consistency, if Carl can maintain it, should really help his chase and championship chances.
4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The most popular driver in NASCAR has been Hendrick's most consistent driver all year long. Although he has been in a recent funk, it is unlikely that he will falter and fall out of the chase as he has a comfortable lead over teammate Jeff Gordon in sixth place, and a 379 point edge over 13th place Clint Bowyer.
5. Jeff Burton
The definition of consistency, Jeff had his impressive streak of top 15 finishes end at Daytona in July, and he has fallen off the map recently, struggling just to finish races.
But the consistency early on should help Jeff Burton earn a spot in the chase again. He doesn't win a lot, but he seems to always be there at the end, when it matters most.
6. Tony Stewart
Stewart seems to have come on of late, with solid runs and good finishes. He has yet to win a race this year, but does have eight top five finishes.
The only concern is if Stewart can focus enough with his current race team and his new race team next year. That will be the real challenge.
7. Jeff Gordon
The four-time champion just has not found the groove in the new car this year. The team has struggled, but they have persevered to find themselves currently in sixth place.
Gordon has eight top five finishes to his name this year, but is still looking for that elusive first victory. If he wishes to compete for his fifth championship, Jeff will need to earn some wins, one would think, to have a chance.
8. Kasey Kahne
Kahne seems to have put last year's disappointment behind him. With two victories this year so far, Kahne is in a great position to earn a chase berth.
However, he is in the middle of this swirling hurricane at the bottom of the top 12, where an error can send any driver, including Kahne, spiraling out of control and out of the chase. Kasey has been consistent though, staying in the top 12 for most of the year.
9. Matt Kenseth
Even though Kenseth has yet to win a race this year, he has been on a tear after a poor start to the season. The last tracks before the chase seem to benefit Kenseth.
He runs well at these tracks and rarely has two consecutive poor races. This should help him get more confidence as the chase nears and ultimately enter the chase a contender instead of a pretender.
10. Denny Hamlin
Denny seems to have raced the entire season under the radar. He has quietly performed quite well this season, earning one victory and 11 top 10s so far. However, there has not been much talk of Hamlin.
The only concerning thing for Hamlin is whether or not he can avoid the wrecks. It seems that his car is rarely scratch-free by the end of a race. Some of this is his doing, and some is not.
11. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has been inconsistent at best this year, however, he has run better as of late. He will have to continue this streak of good runs as he is only 64 points ahead of his teammate Clint Bowyer. One slip up and his chase dreams could be in tatters.
12. Greg Biffle
The word for Biffle this season is unlucky. He has been strong in many races this year, but unlucky events have turned a good day into a horrible day.
Biffle's team finds a way to persevere, year in and year out, and it should continue as Greg and company find a way to sneak into the chase this year.
And Just Left Out: Clint Bowyer
Bowyer has been very inconsistent this season. It seems that Harvick and Burton have found their stride, but Bowyer has yet to catch that.
Yes, he does have a victory, but he has rarely been strong for a long stretch of races this year. That should prevent him from being a chaser.
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