As we get into the year and see who is running well, everybody starts predicting what drivers will make the elusive top 12 and what drivers won’t along with their normal race picks. If you analyze past seasons, the chase drivers after race 13 have for the most part kept themselves in the top 12.
So with this being an off-weekend even though we’re just at week four, it seems like the perfect weekend to go ahead and see how things look so far.
The top 12 drivers after Atlanta Motor Speedway:
- Kevin Harvick with 644 points
- Matt Kenseth (-26)
- Greg Biffle (-59)
- Jimmie Johnson (-74)
- Clint Bowyer (-86)
- Jeff Burton (-106)
- Mark Martin (-123)
- Tony Stewart (-134)
- Paul Menard (-139)
- Kurt Busch (-142)
- Jeff Gordon (-162)
- Scott Speed (-162)
Drivers who are sitting on the outside of the Chase less then 100 points back are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (minus seven), Joey Logano (-11), Kyle Busch (-14), Brian Vickers (-16), Kasey Kahne (-35) and David Reuitmann (-42).
In looking at last year’s point standings, some of these drivers are surprises while others are obvious. Last year for example, Harvick finished 19th after struggling all year with ill-handling cars on the intermediate tracks. Others in that situation included Kenseth (14th), Bowyer (15th) and Burton (17th).
However, other drivers were in the top 12 last year such as Biffle (seventh), Johnson (first), Martin (second), Stewart (sixth), Kurt Busch (forth) and Gordon (second).
On the flip side, the big surprises of the year have to be Menard and Speed. Last year, Paul Menard finished 31st with no top 10s and now sits ninth with a top five finish while Scott Speed finished 35th with one top five and now sits 12th with a top 10.
So does success at this point in the year equal making the Chase?
In 2009, the following drivers made the Chase: Johnson, M. Martin, J. Gordon, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Stewart, Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Kahne, Carl Edwards and Vickers. After Atlanta, seven (Gordon, Busch, Edwards, Stewart, Kahne, Biffle, Vickers) of those 12 drivers were in the top 12.
In 2008, the following drivers made the Chase: Johnson, Edwards, Biffle, Harvick, Bowyer, J. Burton, J. Gordon, Hamlin, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. After Atlanta, seven (Kyle Busch, Biffle, Harvick, J. Burton, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Kenseth) of those 12 drivers were in the top 12.
In 2007, the following drivers made the Chase: Johnson, J. Gordon, Bowyer, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Stewart, Kurt Busch, J. Burton, Edwards, Harvick, Truex Jr., and Hamlin. After Atlanta, nine (J. Gordon, J. Burton, Johnson, Kenseth, Stewart, Harvick, Hamlin, Bowyer, Edwards) of those 12 drivers were in the top 12.
Looking at the past three years, an average of eight drivers have made the chase, with 2009 and 2008 having seven and 2007 having nine. So therefore when taking a look at the current top 12 and if you were to be put in the position to predict, eight of those drivers should at least make your list.
The most likely to not make it would be Paul Menard and Scott Speed due to their stats from the past, however this may be a change in the tide so you could take your chances. For sure bets, though would be Johnson (four-time defending champ), M. Martin (second last year), J. Gordon (historically good), Kenseth (consistent) and Harvick (strong start to the year).
No matter how it plays out – there are two things that you know for sure. One is that everybody will be trying to take down Johnson and the No. 48 team and the other is the results will be determined at Richmond in September.