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Granted since no one has run away with the win totals this year there is not as much pressure for chase contenders to go out and win races for Chase seeding, but with seven full races to go until the chase begins someone may still get hot and have 7 or 8 wins heading into New Hampshire.
For the most part the top three drivers in the points right now; Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson are virtually locked into chase positions. Of these three drivers Gordon has the most pressure on him to win. If the chase starts without an addition to his win total he would start the chase 4th seed.
This may be important as the 4th seed in last year’s chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished NASCAR’s playoffs in last place.
The next two drivers on the list Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are also very nearly locked into this year’s chase. Jimmie with 2 wins and Kurt with just won both could use another victory or two heading into NASCAR’s post season. When we look at the races left before the chase:
· Watkins Glen
It would not surprise any of us if Johnson went out and won three of these races. While, based on past performance, Kurt could win two of them.
It seems that the most pressure to win is on these next three drivers; Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman. The highest chase finisher in 2008 without a regular season win was 3rd Greg Biffle and he had to win the first two chase races to do so. For those who do not win a regular season race they averaged a 6.8 finish in the final chase standings, so winning a regular season race is very important.
Looking at the schedule of races left Carl has the best shot, based solely on past performances, to score multiple race wins in the final weeks of the regular season. While Newman could be a threat any week, don’t look past Watkins Glen as the week Newman becomes the second Stewart-Haas car to score a win.
Juan Montoya and Kasey Kahne have some pressure to win, but more pressure just to qualify for the chase itself. Montoya has a strong record at Atlanta and could very well break through for his first oval win there, but these two teams are more focused on merely qualifying for the post season.
That leaves Mark Martin and Kyle Busch who, if they qualify for the chase would be the top two seeds. The pressure on these two teams is to not slip up and fall out of a chase spot. Since they are within five point of doing so for these two drivers every position on the race track is important.
That leaves us with Matt Kenseth, with 2 wins and the final chase spot, and his Roush teammate Greg Biffle zero wins and 10 points behind the final chase spot. Both of these drivers must go out and score all the points they can, and in Biffle’s case look for a win to fall into his lap. While Biffle could very well win Michigan or Atlanta, he must race smart and finish races in the top 5 or 10.