By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Just one race — the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond — remains for drivers who aren’t currently locked into the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase to change their fortunes. Currently 12 drivers have already clinched their place in the championship battle by way of winning at least one race, and being far enough ahead of the 31st-place driver in the standings that they can’t fall out of the top-30.
The drivers who are locked in regardless of what happens in Richmond are: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart.
Every other driver in the field has a formula (or several formulas depending on what occurs during the race at Richmond) to get them into the Chase. Here are the Chase Clinch Scenarios for every driver still in the hunt:
Rookie Chris Buescher has also won a race this season, but because he is 30th in points and just 11 points ahead of David Ragan in 31st he hasn’t quite locked in his spot in the Chase. Buescher can clinch a berth in the Chase by finishing seventh (with no laps led) or by finishing eighth (with at least one lap led) or by finishing ninth (with the most laps led). But as long as he doesn’t lose 11 points to David Ragan in the race, Buescher will be in the Chase.
Chase Elliott has a bunch of different avenues available to make the Chase. Obviously if he wins the race, he will be in the Chase. However, if a win doesn’t happen for Elliott he can make it into the Chase with a 24th-place-or-better effort (so long as the winner of the race isn’t a first-time 2016 winner in the top-30 of the point standings). If Buescher falls outside the top-30 in the point standings by race end, Elliott will secure a Chase berth regardless of his finish.
Austin Dillon wants to win at Richmond, but if he can’t get his No. 3 Chevrolet SS in victory lane he will be rooting for Chase Elliott to win the race. If Dillon finishes 15th-or-better Saturday night he will clinch a berth as long as Chase Elliott wins the race (or any other driver who has already won in 2016). If a first-time 2016 winner reaches victory lane, Dillon will also secure a spot in the Chase if Buescher falls out of the top-30 of the standings and he finishes top-15.
If a repeat winner wins the race, and Chris Buescher falls out of the top-30 of the point standings, Dillon will secure a place in the Chase regardless of where he finishes.
If Jamie McMurray doesn’t win the race he has to finish sixth-or-better if there is a repeat winner, or if Elliott or Dillon win to secure his spot. He can also clinch if he finishes sixth-or-better with a first-time-winner as long as Buescher falls outside the top-30. McMurray can clinch a spot regardless of where he finishes if there is a repeat winner and Buescher falls outside the top-30 of the standings.
Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are still mathematically alive to point themselves into the Chase, but they will need quite a bit of help.
After a P3 penalty docked Newman 15-points in the aftermath of Darlington, he now sits 22 points behind McMurray in the final Chase spot. Newman has to either win the race, or outpoint McMurray by more than 22 points, and hope there isn’t a first-time winner who is also in the top-30 of the championship standings.
Newman can also make it into the Chase if Buescher falls outside the top-30 of the point standings and he stays ahead of Kahne in the points by the end of the night.
Kahne on the other hand, would need to outpoint Newman by 37 points and Buescher would also have to fall outside the top-30 of the championship standings. In order to gain 37 points on Newman, Kahne would have to finish roughly second and Newman dead-last, so it’s highly unlikely this scenario happens. Luckily for Kahne, he can just win the race and then he’ll be in the Chase regardless.
Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears and Landon Cassill can only make the Chase by winning Saturday night’s race.
Also David Ragan and Regan Smith (31st and 32nd in points currently) are still mathematically in contention for a Chase berth. Each driver would have to win the race, and hope to leap frog past Buescher in the championship standings.