|12/03/15||The Champion By NHMS Numbers|
|11/20/15||The Championship Four Preview|
|11/13/15||Phoenix: Three To Watch|
|10/30/15||Martinsville: Three To Watch|
|10/18/15||Kansas: Three To Watch|
|10/05/15||Charlotte: Three To Watch|
Richmond: Three To Watch
This is it! It's the final race before the Chase, and the final opportunity for a driver outside the bubble to get inside and burst it for another Chase hopeful.
The beauty of the new system means that anyone in the top-30 in points could make the Chase with a win, so the dream won't die until the checkered flag drops at Richmond. It also causes tense moments for the winless drivers that are in by virtue of points, as an unexpected winner could leave them out of a seat at the Chase table.
Here's a look at three drivers that have yet to clinch their spot in the Chase and their chances for doing so:
Green Flag - Ryan Newman
Things look good for the No. 31 team. Sure, Newman hasn't won a race since joining it in 2014 and only led 60 laps in that time, but he's made the most of his points, finishing second in the standings last year and positioning himself in position to make this year's Chase on points alone.
For Newman to miss the Chase, someone lower than Clint Bowyer in the standings would need to earn the win, and Newman would virtually need a DNF. Comparing him to other winless drivers projected to make the Chase: he sits 14 points in front of Jeff Gordon; 22 in front of Paul Menard; 32 in front of Bowyer. Even if he registered a DNF, those other three would need to do well enough to finish in front of him.
In his career at Richmond, Newman has 16 top-10s in 27 starts and his finished 15th or better in the last eight races at that track. He seems like a lock for the Chase at this point.
Yellow Flag - Clint Bowyer
Michael Waltrip Racing and Clint Bowyer are parting ways at the end of the season with MWR closing up shop on its Sprint Cup Series operations. If you look back to where it all went awry for the seemingly on-the-rise team, it was this race two years ago. A suspicious late spin by Bowyer, an unnecessary pit stop to give up position with a few laps to go, and a debacle that allowed Martin Truex Jr., then in the No. 56, to earn the final Chase spot. The team faced fines, suspensions, and lost points, and things haven't been the same since for anyone involved.
This race could be an opportunity to create a new memory at Richmond. It could be the evening that Bowyer punches his Chase ticket to give MWR a final run at a championship. Or, it could continue to be a house of horrors. Bowyer has a 29-point lead over Aric Almirola, so nothing short of a DNF would be likely to knock him low enough to miss on points. That is, unless the race winner comes from below him in the standings. He's 10 points behind Paul Menard and the first driver on the chopping block should an unexpected driver win.
Bowyer has a win and three top-three finishes in seven starts at Richmond since joining MWR in 2012. Like Newman, he needs to run his race and hope that a race winner doesn't jump him on the Chase grid.
Red Flag - Kyle Larson
The sophomore slump is almost complete for the most promising new talent in the Sprint Cup Series. After barely missing the Chase last year and dazzling down the stretch, Larson has failed to conjure up the same magic in 2015. His crew chief, Chris Heroy, gambled in the first Michigan race, keeping his driver out with almost no fuel as heavy rain approached. Unfortunately, he ran dry with the track still dry, and needed to pit moments before rain brought out a red flag that ended the race.
That was that team's best chance to steal a win and earn a Chase spot. Barring an unexpected performance from Larson, who has never led a lap at Richmond in three starts, he will finish nearly 100 points shy of contending for the championship this year.