Three down and four to go

Published 9:08 am Monday, August 29, 2016

Call them the ‘Dirty Dozen’.

They’re the 12 NASCAR drivers who’ve locked up a spot in the 2016 Chase for the (Final) Sprint Cup.

While those 12 are safer than disciples at Damascus, there are still four spots remaining to fill the field, but as that ol’ 80’s rock music standard once asked, ‘Who could it be now?’

Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher are all in after finding victory lane this year.

Look at the drivers that are left battling for those final four spots in NASCAR’s playoffs, with three races to decide who’s in:

Austin Dillon (55 points ahead) and Chase Elliott (47 points) look like virtual locks to make the Chase based on their current point standings rank. However, Elliott has slipped tremendously the last couple of months. And let’s not forget that Kyle Larson looked like a lock to make the Chase on points just a couple of races ago, but 24th and 29th place finishes can burst your bubble.

As long as these two young guns have decent outings over the next three weeks they should be able to make it into the Chase for the first time.

Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman also seem safe to make it on points, but if some other drivers cut in front of them – by claiming a checkered flag – then it could mean that two wily vets could be running the final 10 races of the season with nothing on the line but their team’s pride.

Guys like Larson, Trevor Bayne, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney have all made better than decent runs near the front from week to week. If someone is going to nab a win over the next three races to catapult into the Chase, I would expect it to be one of those four.

That being said, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and Casey Mears are all just a surprise win away from being in the Chase themselves. Remember, first up is Michigan and historically this is a fuel mileage race. That lends itself to a surprise winner being the one doing those post-race burnouts from time to time.

Labor Day weekend in Darlington might just recall five years ago, in 2011, when Regan Smith proved that underdogs could win the Southern 500 when he beat Carl Edwards on old tires in the closing laps to win at that venerable South Carolina oval.

If Dale Jr. can make it back in time for the final regular season race in Richmond, he would have a shot to win his way into the Chase as well as long as NASCAR grants him a health waiver like Kyle Busch got a year ago and Tony Stewart this year. A waiver allows a driver to be eligible for the Chase if he is in the top 30 in points after the Sept. 10 race. Tony’s won already, so that excuse for him is moot.

It’s also been a trying season for drivers like David Ragan, Regan Smith, and Matt DiBenedetto. These guys have started every race this season, but they all sit outside the top-30 of the point standings.

If any of these drivers want to snatch one of the remaining Chase spots they will not only have to win, but also leapfrog inside the top-30 of the championship standings to become Chase eligible.

But for all you guys, the first rule of competition: nothing’s impossible.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.