NASCAR Power Ranking: Odds for Each of the Top 25 Drivers to Make the Chase

Luke KrmpotichContributor IIJuly 20, 2011

NASCAR Power Ranking: Odds for Each of the Top 25 Drivers to Make the Chase

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    RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 11:  (Back row from L-R) The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase contenders Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Ford, Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg's/Cheez-It
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    After the 26th race of the season, the field for the 2011 Chase for the Championship will be set.

    If the Sprint Cup regular season ended today, the field would consist of the following drivers: Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon.

    But between now and the cut-off race at Richmond International Speedway, a lot can and will happen. I predict that at least two of the above drivers will fall out of Chase contention.

    Which of the current drivers in the top 25 in the points are likely to make the final cut for the Chase? Here are my thoughts on each driver's odds to make the Chase.

1. Carl Edwards: Championship Leader, 1 Win

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 06:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Scotts/Kellogg's Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 6, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jerry Ma
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards has led the standings for much of the year and is a lock for the Chase field. He's been consistent all year long, has a win, and is one of the fastest cars on the track more often than not.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%.

2. Jimmie Johnson: -7 Points, 1 Win

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 BB&T Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger/AARP Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, lead Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Jimmie Johnson is a lock to make the Chase. You can bet your house on it, you can bet you kids on it, you can even bet your cable TV package on it.

    Although he has just one win in 2011 (and a fluke win at that) and there has been speculation on the pit stop struggles of the No. 48 team, there is simply no way Johnson misses the Chase.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%.

3. Kurt Busch: -11 Points, 1 Win

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 08:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    A couple of months ago, Kurt Busch had cooled off following a hot start to the season and was unhappy with both his team and his marriage. But a win at Sonoma halted his freefall through the standings and he has now climbed back to third place. His spot in the Chase is assured.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%.

4. Kevin Harvick: -15 Points, 3 Wins

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    FONTANA, CA - MARCH 27:  (L and R) Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, and crew chief Gil Martin celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 27, 2011 in Fontana, Ca
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Kevin Harvick is the fourth in the points and an absolute lock to make the Chase. "Happy" has three wins on the year and even if he suffers a cataclysmic fall in the standings, those wins would guarantee him a wild card berth.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%

5. Kyle Busch: -20 Points, 3 Wins

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    RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Pretzel Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2011 in
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Like Harvick, Kyle Busch is an absolute guarantee to make the Chase. He also has three wins, and his team can focus on preparing for the Chase rather than worrying about staying in the top 10.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%

6. Matt Kenseth: -26 Points, 2 Wins

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 09:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Black Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Get
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Matt Kenseth is known for his trademark consistency, and he'll make the Chase without often making the headlines. He does have two wins on the year after making the Chase last year despite a mere 10 top-10s in the regular season.

    Kenseth is solidly in the top 10 and with two race victories, he's a lock for the Chase.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%

7. Jeff Gordon: -65 Points, 2 Wins

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    AVONDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on February 27, 2011 in Avondale, Arizon
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    For the first time in a few years, Jeff Gordon is looking (almost) like the Wonder Kid of old. He has multiple wins for the first time since 2007 and his trend in the standings has been upward after a rough start to the season.

    The No. 24 team can concentrate on preparing for the Chase, as Gordon's two victories put him in safe territory for the postseason party.

    Odds of making the Chase: 100%

8. Ryan Newman: -66 Points, 1 Win

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    LOUDON, NH - JULY 17:  Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, holds up a lobster in Victory Lane after he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2011 in Loudon, New Hampshire.
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    The top seven drivers are all locks to make the Chase, leaving five spots up for grabs. Beginning with Newman in eighth, I don't think any drivers can breathe easy...yet. Some are in excellent position, but for each of them there is still work to be done.

    With his win last week at New Hampshire, Ryan Newman solidified his position in the top 10 and also put himself in position to make the Chase as a wild card if he slips out of the top 10 in points.

    Odds of making the Chase: 90%

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: -75 Points

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    RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard / AMP Energy Chevrolet waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 3
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is more relaxed and happier in 2011 than he has been in a long time, and so is Junior Nation.

    However, Junior has really struggled in recent weeks and has slipped to ninth in the points. His position within the top 10 is in jeopardy, but he's still in decent position. The important thing is to get back on track, put together a few solid runs, and not give up on his team or the season. A win would help immeasurably, but at this point, any positive momentum would be nice.

    Odds of making the Chase: 50%

10. Denny Hamlin: -82 Points, 1 Win

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 06:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Toyota, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 6, 2011 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Jeff Z
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Denny Hamlin had a rough start to the year, but he seems to be getting things figured out. With a win at Michigan, Hamlin helped his cause for making the Chase. Still, his seven top-10s are the fewest of any driver currently in the top 10.

    Hamlin could make the Chase as a wild card by winning two or three races, but I don't think he'll have to. His team is one of the best in NASCAR and he seems to have overcome the effects of his demoralizing title bout last fall with Jimmie Johnson. With a few more solid runs he'll move higher in the top ten, and that's what I expect him to do.

    Odds of making the Chase: 90%

11. Tony Stewart: 0 Points Behind 10th

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NA
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Tony Stewart has a history of heating up during the summer months, and he'll need pick up his performance in order to make the Chase. He's in position to make the Chase, but barely.

    A runner-up result at New Hampshire could provide some momentum to build upon, but what Smoke really needs is a win. A celebration in victory lane could do wonders for the No. 14 team, which has struggled with inconsistency all season long.

    Odds of making the Chase: 80%

12. Clint Bowyer: 28 Points Behind 10th

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    RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 29:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 BB&T Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Clint Bowyer has fallen several positions in the points over the last two months, due to six finishes of 15th or worse in the past eight races. He's currently 28 points out of the top 10, so he could make the Chase with strong runs over the next two months. That might be his best plan, as Bowyer has won just one regular season race in his career. In other words, don't bet on him making the Chase as a wild card.

    Odds of making the Chase: 40%

13. David Ragan: 46 Points Behind 10th, 1 Win

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    RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30: David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford races with Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Scotts eZ Seed Ford and Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    David Ragan has impressed in recent weeks. He's made a couple strong runs following his breakthrough Daytona victory. After a 14th-place result at New Hampshire, Ragan sits 13th in the standings and is in line to make the Chase as a wild card.

    Ragan knows he is on the hot seat even after his Daytona victory, and making the Chase could guarantee his job after a couple of disappointing seasons. Ragan has to be the most motivated driver to make the Chase.

    Odds of making the Chase: 55%

14. Kasey Kahne: 47 Points Behind 10th

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 07:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #4 Red Bull Toyota, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 7, 2011 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Kasey Kahne is in a lame-duck situation this year at Red Bull, slated to take over Mark Martin's ride at Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

    Kahne has had strong runs the last few weeks, but unfortunately, Kahne has a history of being a somewhat streaky driver. I doubt he'll be able to carry his momentum for long enough to get into the Chase zone, at 47 points out of 10th place. While he's capable of winning and making the Chase as a wild card, I also don't see that happening.

    Odds of making the Chase: 30%

15. Greg Biffle: 47 Points Behind 10th

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Post-it Ford, signs his autograph for a fan during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jared
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Greg Biffle is 47 points outside the Chase zone and headed in the wrong direction. If he wants to make the Chase, I believe he'll need to score a win (or two) at upcoming tracks like Pocono and Michigan. The wild card could be his saving grace, but he'll need to improve his performance dramatically for that to happen: he has only five top-10's on the year and none since Kansas, seven races ago.

    Odds of making the Chase: 25%

16. A.J. Allmendinger: 55 Points Behind 10th

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 06:  A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #43 Best Buy Ford, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 6, 2011 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Tom Pe
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    A.J. Allmendinger has impressed with the way he's managed to hang around the top 10 after other early challengers, such as Paul Menard, have faded. In the end, he won't be able to do enough to make the Chase; not this year at least.

    There's simply too much ground for Allmendinger to make up to pull into the top 10, and with just 16 laps led, a victory doesn't seem imminent either.

    Odds of making the Chase: 10%

17. Juan Pablo Montoya: 59 Points Behind 10th

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    WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08:  Juan Pablo Montoya, drives the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2010 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Juan Pablo Montoya has a decent chance to qualify for the Chase as a wild card. He excels on the road courses and could make the Chase on the strength of a win at Watkin's Glen. He also might have to worry about beating out another top-20 driver with one win, so passing a driver like David Ragan should be a priority as well.

    Montoya is fully capable of winning at an oval track as well, especially Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where bad luck and driver error have ruined recent opportunities for victories.

    Odds of making the Chase: 20%

18. Joey Logano: 60 Points Behind 10th

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    Joey Logano struggled mightily at the beginning of the season but has really picked up the pace in recent weeks. With three top-6 finishes in the last four races, you almost wonder if he can make up the deficit of 60 points between himself and 10th place.

    While that may be a tall order, Logano does seem poised to pick up his second career victory before long. A win would go a long way toward earning a wild card berth in the Chase.

    Odds of making the Chase: 15%

19. Paul Menard: 64 Points Behind 10th

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    RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 29:  Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Libman/Menards Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 29, 2011 in Rich
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    The feel-good story of the early stages of the 2011 season may have ended a while ago, but Paul Menard is still hanging around the top 20 like he belongs. Where Menard doesn't belong, at least this season, is in the Chase.

    In order for Menard to make the Chase in future years, he'll need to figure out how to sustain early-season success throughout the long Sprint Cup season. As a Wisconsin native and witness of his lone NASCAR victory at the Milwaukee Mile in 2006, I'll be rooting for him.

    Odds of making the Chase: 5%

20. Mark Martin: 70 Points Behind 10th

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 06:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Carquest/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 6, 2011 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Mark Martin has had a dismal year, to say the least. He's led just one lap so far this season and has just three top-10s with no top-5s. At that rate, he's lucky to be this high in the points and to make the Chase will require a major turnaround in the performance of the #5 team.

    I don't see it happening. Martin is in a lame-duck situation, and with teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the top ten in points, Martin isn't likely to be the first priority in the Hendrick shop.

    On the bright side, at least Martin won the Las Vegas Nationwide race earlier this year, so it hasn't all been doom and gloom in 2011.

    Odds of making the Chase: 5%

21. Marcos Ambrose: 5 Points Behind 20th

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    The bright spots this season have been few and far between for Marcos Ambrose. His lone hope for making the Chase is to win the road course race at Watkins Glen in a few weeks, pop into the top-20 in points, and hope that he's one of only two drivers from 11th to 20th with a win.

    Odds of making the Chase: 2%

22. Martin Truex Jr.: 15 Points Behind 20th

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    DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 07:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 7, 2011 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images f
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Perhaps no other driver has had a season as frustrating as that of Martin Truex Jr. Sure, he's had fast cars, but he's also had the worst luck of any driver not being pushed by Kurt Busch at Talladega.

    Truex Jr. does have six top-10s, but he's also the highest-ranked driver without a top-5 in 2011. That doesn't bode well for his chances of making the Chase as a wild card. Truex Jr. has led 121 laps this year, but I'm not holding my breath for him to pick up a second career victory.

    Odds of making the Chase: 2%

22. Brad Keselowski: 25 Points Behind 20th, 1 Win

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    Brad Keselowski has shown flashes of brilliance this season, earning the second win of his career at Kansas Speedway in a fuel mileage gambit. He has also doubled his top-10 total from a year ago, already picking up four through the season's first 19 races.

    With a victory in his pocket, he still has a legitimate chance at the Chase. In order to earn a wild card berth, Keselowski will need to creep into the top 20 in points and hope that there is a maximum of one other driver in position to qualify for a wild card spot with a victory. My guess is that it's too much to hope for.

    Odds of making the Chase: 5%

24. David Reutimann: 52 Points Behind 20th

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    I'd say it's been a year of near-misses for David Reutimann and the No. 00 team, except it hasn't been. The above photo shows the closest Reutimann has come to victory this season.

    Reutimann has just two top-10s in 2011 and his problems are far greater than simply the inconsistency that plagued his team in 2010. To make the Chase, he'll need to win a race (probably two) and string together several strong finishes to get into the top 20 in the points. I don't see that happening.

    Odds of making the Chase: 1%

25. Jeff Burton: 55 Points Behind 20th

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    The single greatest surprise of the 2011 season has to be the utter and complete struggles of veteran driver Jeff Burton.

    Amazingly, he has yet to post a single top-10 after averaging more than 16 over the past five seasons. Nothing has gone right for the No. 31 team, and there are no signs of turning the corner any time soon. Burton's struggles began during the 2010 Chase, with a best finish of ninth in the final nine races of the year. I assumed that that was an anomaly, but it's only become worse in 2011.

    Odds of making the Chase: 1%

Notable Drivers Missing from the Top 25

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    LOUDON, NH - JULY 17: Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2011 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    A couple of notable drivers are outside the top 25. For Brian Vickers (26th in points) or Jamie McMurray (29th) to make the Chase they'll need to win a race or two and sneak in as a wild card. Regan Smith already has a win, but is mired in 27th in the points.

    The most likely driver in this group to make the Chase is probably Regan Smith, simply because he already has a win in 2011.

    To make the Chase he'll have to do two things: first, crack the top 20 in points; second, hope that no more than one other driver with one win is in the top 20. It's not outside the realm of possibility, but time is beginning to run very short for Smith, who has just three top-10 runs this season.

    Odds of any of these drivers making the Chase: 1%