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But a crowd of six are still in contention

Only three races remain before the Chase for the Championship begins and six drivers are within 129 points of each other for the 12th and final position. Mathematically, only Kevin Harvick has secured a spot in the Chase, but realistically, the only position that looks up for grabs is the 12th position which is currently held by Clint Bowyer.

The three remaining races are under the lights beginning this week at Bristol, then Atlanta and closing with Richmond. The drivers who have a legitimate shot at catching and passing Bowyer are Mark Martin (35 points behind), Ryan Newman (103), Jamie McMurray (105), Kasey Kahne (126) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (129).

Based on career averages at the three tracks, Earnhardt Jr. would have the best chance followed by Bowyer and then Martin. But based on the way this season has gone, Bowyer and his powerful Richard Childress engine appears to have things wrapped up, especially when considering that he gets to close things out at Richmond, one of his best tracks.

Earnhardt continues to be a mystery. How is it possible that his two teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are contending for wins each week and Junior is stuck driving the garbage he gets every week. It’s almost as puzzling as the drop-off in performance that his other teammate, Mark Martin, has seen this year. Martin was a dominant force last year contending for wins every week and capturing five.

I refuse to believe that both Martin and Earnhardt forgot how to drive; there has to be some kind of internal conspiracy of sorts within the Hendrick organization. Does Rick Hendrick really want all of his drivers to be successful; is it good for business?

Or is it better to have Johnson’s path to a Championship more easily paved. Martin got really close last season by finishing second in points. Would that have derailed his franchise in Johnson? And if they really are a team, why not let Martin or Earnhardt roll out in one of the many stout chassis’ that Johnson has sitting around his garage, just to see how they’d fare?

There’s probably nothing there, but those two teams awful performances this year while the other two excel just makes you wonder.

This week’s race at Bristol will be the seventh race run on the new multi-grooved surface, a surface that has taken much of what made the two annual Bristol races classics. The race now runs similar to Dover and because no one is fighting for the bottom line anymore, fans haven’t been treated to the feuds and battles like Bristol was famous for. Drivers don’t get irritated at Bristol any more; good for them, but stinks for us.

Jimmie Johnson won the first race at Bristol back in March. It was Johnson’s first win ever at Bristol after 16 previously unsuccessful attempts. The win was also Johnson’s third win in the last four races having won earlier at Fontana and Las Vegas. Johnson has cooled of considerably in the last six races coming in this week. He has no top-five finishes with 10th-place being his best run during that span. Chances are that Johnson will run well again at Bristol this week justs because the changes to the track make it more suited for his style.

Kyle Busch hasn’t had a top-five finish since week 14 at Pocono, a drought of nine races, but Bristol should be a place to get him going strong again. He finished ninth in the March race and swept both races last season. Busch also won on the old formatted track while driving for Hendrick Motorsports giving him three career wins on the track which is just under career active leaders Jeff Gordon and brother Kurt Busch who each have five wins. You hate going against a trend, which currently says that Busch is running awful right now, but the other trend of doing well at Bristol is stronger.

Look for Johnson and Busch to battle it out with Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin being close behind.

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