By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Three races remain until the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, and already 12 drivers have locked up a spot in the Chase Grid by way of winning a race.
With Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher finding victory lane already, that leaves four spots left up for grabs over the next three weeks. Here are the drivers that are left battling for those final four spots in NASCAR Playoffs:
Currently in (based on points)
Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott look like virtual locks to make the Chase based on their current point standings rank. However, Elliott has slipped tremendously the last couple of months. And let’s not forget that Kyle Larson looked like a comfortable lock to make the Chase on points just a couple of races ago.
Currently Dillon and Elliott are 55 points and 47 points ahead of the Chase cutoff. As long as the two young drivers have decent outings over the next three weeks they should be able to make it into the Chase for the first time.
Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman also look like rather safe bets to make the Grid on points, but if people below the cutoff line win races in the next three weekends it could mean that these two veteran drivers could be running the final 10 races of the season for pride only.
Needing a win
It’s been a super competitive season in the Sprint Cup Series garage. Guys like Trevor Bayne, Larson, AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney have all been pleasant surprises running near the front from week to week.
If someone is going to nab a win over the next three races to catapult into the Chase I would expect it to be one of the four drivers above.
That being said, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Casey Mears and Landon Cassill are all just a surprise win away from being in the Chase themselves.
Michigan, where the series runs this week, has historically been a fuel mileage race. That lends itself to surprise winners from time to time.
And back in 2011, Regan Smith proved that underdogs could win the Southern 500 when he beat Carl Edwards on old tires in the closing laps to win at Darlington.
Nobody is out of this thing just yet.
Also, if Dale Earnhardt Jr. can make it back in time for the final regular season race in Richmond, he would have a shot to win his way into the Chase as well as long as NASCAR grants the driver a health waiver.
Needing a win, and more
It’s been a trying season for David Ragan, Regan Smith, Brian Scott and Matt DiBenedetto. All four drivers have started every race this season, but they all sit outside the top-30 of the point standings.
If any of these drivers are wanting to snatch one of the remaining Chase Grid spots they will not only have to win, but they will also have to leapfrog inside the top-30 of the championship standings to become Chase eligible.