We’re just over the halfway point of the Sprint Cup season, but only seven races remain until NASCAR’s version of the playoffs – the “Chase for the Championship” – begins.
The current stretch we’re in now is called the “Race to the Chase” as the drivers battle to be one of the top 12 drivers after race No. 26.
This year’s Race to the Chase has a little more excitement built into it than other years because the final two positions are given to drivers within the top-20 in points who have the most wins. Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer are currently 11th and 12th in points, but neither has any wins on the year.
As it sits now, Bowyer would be bumped out by David Ragan (13th in points) on the basis of Ragan’s Daytona win. Should Brad Keselowski get himself into the top-20 – he’s currently 23rd – he would take over the spot held by Stewart because of Keselowski‘s Kansas win.
The drivers now find themselves in somewhat of a dilemma, especially Bowyer and Stewart. Do they drive cautiously and try to make the Chase on points by getting into the top-10 or do they go all out and try to win one of the remaining seven races?
Obviously, they’d like to do both, but probably will accentuate their stance more as the writing on the wall becomes clearer.
Stewart has perhaps the best chance of the two just because he’s always run well at the tracks we’ll see in the next seven races. Not many drivers have been collectively better at the likes of Indianapolis, Pocono and Watkins Glen than Stewart. He could get himself a couple of wins in those three alone.
Bowyer’s best chance rests with Richmond in the final race until the Chase making him look like not too good a bet to win the Championship right now. In the Hilton’s adjusted odds to win the title, Bowyer is listed at 40-1 with Stewart at 15-1. David Ragan, despite being in at the moment, is still considered a long shot at 50-1.
Carl Edwards jumped back into points lead – after a poor finish by Kyle Busch last week – and is the 7-2 favorite to win it all. Right behind him is five-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson at 9-2, Kyle Busch at 5-1, Matt Kenseth at 7-1 with Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick all at 8-1.
Jeff Gordon has been creeping up in points the last few weeks and currently sits in seventh position. At 10-1 odds, he could be the sneaky one of the bunch just because of how well he has run on the Chase tracks already this year. He’ll be looking to join his protégé as being a five-time champ.
As for everyone’s favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., well, let’s just say Bowyer may not have to worry too much. At the rate Junior is going right now, he’ll find himself in 15th-place by the time the Chase rolls around, and missing out. In his last five races, he’s gone from being third in points to ninth with a succession of poor finishes.
Junior is currently 25-1 to win it all, but the only reason it is that low is just because of all the risk on him from his legion of fans betting with their heart.
It’s an off week for the Cup series, which will return in two weeks at Indianapolis. To get started on handicapping the race, a great reference is to look at who did well at Pocono last month.