As the NASCAR season works its way closer to the Chase for the Cup, it looks as though it will be the same old field of drivers racing for the Championship. But with eight races remaining, who are six drivers that may have a chance to race towards a spot in their first Chase and possibly even make a bit of history along the way?
Let's take a look.
(To really understand how the points and new Chase format works, you can click here)
Regan Smith doesn't have a huge chance of getting in the Chase, but if the circumstances are right, he could make it. In the new Chase format, the No. 11 and 12 guys to make it into the Chase are those in the No. 11-20 spots with the most wins.
As Smith won Darlington in May, he could get one of the two wild card spots. If he could get one of the Top 20 spots and David Ragan is still the only winner in the Top 20 when he gets there, Smith could be in the Chase.
Smith currently sits in the No. 27 points slot, 70 points out of the Top 20 and 130 out of the Top 10. However, to get into the top 20, Smith needs to pick up his performance a bit as he only has three Top 10s this season.
Joey Logano sits in the magical No. 20 spot. The only thing wrong with that is that he has no wins in Cup so the spot really does him no good right now.
Logano sits 60 points out of 10th so theoretically he could make it into the Top 10 with a few really good runs and as he has four top 10s, it is possible. However, the less pressure way would probably be to snatch a win while keeping his spot in the top 20.
Either way, it is a challenge but he is going to Loudon this week and he won there in 2009 (granted it was ended by rain) so maybe he can pull it off again.
A.J. Allmendinger has the right spots in the points (he sits in the No. 18 spot after dropping three positions last week) but it will be tough for him to get in the Chase.
While there have been interesting winners this year, Allmendinger's best chance may be to race into the top 10 as he doesn't have any Cup wins in 134 starts but does have four top 10 finishes (and one top five) this season.
Allmendinger sits 46 points out of the 10th place spot so if he can throw together a string of good races and have a little luck, he may be able to grab the last spot in the Chase without breaking his winless streak.
It is safe to say that Paul Menard has been a pleasant surprise this season after switching over to Richard Childress Racing. It also is pretty safe to say that he may be able to race into the Chase with a few more good runs.
Menard sits in the No. 16 spot with three top five finishes and five top 10s. He is 43 points out of the 10th spot and 138 points out of first. If he can find a top five or top 10 groove for the rest of the regular season, he should be able to slide into the Chase, even without a win, as long as something drastic doesn't happen.
Menard has some of the best equipment on the track and has shown flashes of brilliance driving his RCR car this year. He just needs to find the success he has had and figure out how to be consistent for the rest of the season if he hopes to make it into the Chase and perform well.
Brad Keselowski has a Chase spot waiting for him if a few factors fall into place and he can stay out of trouble.
He is only three points out of the Top 20 and if he can finish four spots in front of Joey Logano this weekend he could get into a wild card Chase spot. However, he also has to make sure that no one behind him creeps up and finishes far enough ahead of both Logano and Keselowski to move into the top 20 (the closest one to the pair is Marcos Ambrose seven points behind Keselowski and 10 points behind Logano).
In addition, if he hopes to get in by wins, he has to hope that no one inside the 11-20 bracket gets a win unless it is David Ragan (who already has a notch in the win column).
Brad Keselowski is 63 points out of the Top 10 so his best bet is to get in the Chase due to wins since he is a lot closer to getting into the Top 20 than the Top 10.
If he can gain four points on Logano and keep himself in the top 20 for the remaining regular season race with no one else in that points area winning, Keselowski will find himself in the Chase for the first time.
David Ragan has been on a roll lately. He's won the pole, has a Daytona win, three top fives and six top 10s.
But if that's not good enough, he's sitting in the 15th spot in points, only 35 points out of 10th. If he can keep up his momentum over the coming weeks, he may be a top 10 shocker come Chase time.
If Ragan can't slip into the Top 10 but the winning totals for the No. 11-20 drivers stay the same come Chase time (Ragan is the only driver in one of those spots with a win), he will still make the Chase.