Clint Bowyer and A. J. Allmendinger Have One Last Chance for the Chase

David DeNennoContributor IIISeptember 6, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 8: (L-R) Jason Leffler, A. J. Allmendinger, Paige Duke, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle pose for a photo during an event for NASCAR fans on July 8, 2010 at the Best Buy Rotunda at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images for Best Buy)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The debacle that was the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is finally over:  The weather was far from perfect.  The attendance looked like that of a local dirt track race feature.  The grandstands, at most, were less than a third full.   No matter, it was a great day for racing.

Jeff Gordon cemented himself at number three on the all time NASCAR wins list.  A sure fire hall of fame induction was just clinched.  The weather finally allowed the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to continue its march to the motorsports version of the playoffs.  Still, it reared its head for a time and delayed the race beyond the threshold for an official race; had the race been cancelled for weather at that time, J.J Yeley could have notched his first victory.

It was not to be.  The finale saw Gordon battling his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the last 12 laps.  Johnson looked as though he would pass twice during the run, but the hunger of the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet would not be famished.

A.J. Alllmendinger must win to guarantee a spot in the Chase. Even a victory may not be enough, depending on how his competitors fair at the final regular season race. No matter his career statistics at Richmond, he now has to post a victory to guarantee entry into the sweepstakes of trying to dethrone Jimmie Johnson and his Lowe's Chevrolet as the king of the top division.

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 3, 2011 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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 He finished solidly in tenth position at Atlanta today and Juan Pablo Montoya’s wrecking of Clint Bowyer may turn out to be a blessing for the young driver.  Desperately needing a win, Bowyer was ousted by Montoya much too late to come back; Bowyer finished 36th and very nearly ended his championship hopes.  His contract negotiations may have been hindered as well.

It will not be an easy task.  Other drivers are on the cusp of clinching as well, and need to accomplish far less than a victory to secure their spot in the Chase.  Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski all finished ahead of Allmendinger.  Tony Stewart needs only to finish in the top 20 to clinch.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was never a factor and seemed to be playing defense all race long to avoid disaster and fortify his Sprint Cup Chase hopes.  His situation is roughly akin to Stewart's. 

The spots for the Chase have been narrowed to one, at least by preliminary calculation.  It will be a short week.  The trucks are most likely getting on the road to Richmond.  The regular season’s finale will hold some intrigue for Chase implications.  It will also present an opportunity for the leaders to get an edge in points once the Chase commences less than two weeks from now in Chicago.

Bottom Line:  Barring freak early departures from Stewart and Jr., Allmendinger and Bowyer are done for the season.

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