Chase Picture Could Take Shape at Atlanta
Two races remain before the complete 12-driver Chase field is set, seedings and all.
Here's what we know: Five drivers have clinched a Chase spot in some fashion. Kyle Busch, five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have locked up a top-10 spot. Kevin Harvick, on the strength of three 2011 victories, has clinched at least a wild card spot -- and will likely cement a top-10 berth in Sunday night's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After race No. 26 at Richmond International Raceway, the top 10 drivers in points will fill out the first portion of the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most victories, provided they are in the top 20. The wild card tiebreaker is points position.
A few words on bonus points: Only the top 10 get them. Once the Chase field is set, all 12 drivers will have their points reset to 2,000. Then, for those in the top 10, three additional bonus points will be tacked on for each win during the 26-race regular season.
Sunday's race in Atlanta will likely further shore things up. The "magic number" for Atlanta is 49. Leaving Atlanta, any driver who has a 49-point lead on 11th-place clinches a top-10 Chase spot (Note: If the driver in question owns the tiebreaker over 11th of best finish, that magic number shrinks to 48). Here are the clinch scenarios going into the weekend:
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon: Both 93 points ahead of 11th, Harvick and Gordon can guarantee a top-10 spot with at least a finish of 40th; or 41st and at least one lap led; or 42nd and the most laps led.
Ryan Newman: Currently 73 points ahead of 11th, Newman can guarantee a top-10 spot with at least a finish of 20th; or 21st and at least one lap led; or 22nd and the most laps led.
Kurt Busch: Currently 60 points ahead of 11th, Busch can guarantee a top-10 spot with at least a finish of seventh; or eighth and at least one lap led; or ninth and the most laps led.
Both Dale Earnhardt Jr. (39 points ahead of 11th) and Tony Stewart (21 points ahead) can both mathematically reach that 49-point threshold but would need help. No specific finish guarantees a spot.
There are wild card clinching possibilities for this weekend, but that all depends on finishes from various competitors Sunday.