Commentary

Handicapping the Chase -- Talladega

Handicapping the Chase -- Talladega.

Updated: October 5, 2007, 7:29 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Desperate times call for desperate measures, which is true for three-quarters of the drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Chase contenders accounted for six of the nine worst finishers at Kansas Speedway.

Well, they were Chase contenders. Hopes of contending for the championship are slim for some of them, and it comes at the worst possible time. They need to take some chances now, but Talladega is not the place to do it.

The first Car of Tomorrow race on the restrictor-plate monster track is a new world for all the teams. But a Chaser can get lucky when the inevitable big wreck comes. If he's not in it, but some Chase drivers ranked ahead of him are, it's a chance to make a big move in the standings.

With seven races remaining, it looks like a three-man show between Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, the biggest surprise of the Chase.

The bottom two of the 12 playoff drivers -- Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin -- need a miracle now to win the title. The odds aren't much better for Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton.

But the middle-ground guys still have hope. What they really need is some help.

If the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Johnson and Gordon keep posting top-10s, the trailing Chasers can't get there. They need Johnson and Gordon to have a bad outing or two along the way -- 30th or worse -- to make things interesting.

And what about Bowyer? Is he the real deal? He's peaking at the right time, but it would be an upset of epic proportions if he closes the deal and beats the Hendrick stars.

Here's a look at where the Chase drivers stand heading to Talladega:

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson
Rank -- 1st, six points ahead
Started the Chase -- 1st, 20 points ahead
Net loss -- 14 points
Chase results -- 6th at New Hampshire, 14th at Dover, 3rd at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Yes, if he underestimates his teammate, Jeff Gordon.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Won the spring race a year ago and finished second in the spring this season.

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon
Rank -- 2nd, six points back
Started the Chase -- 2nd, 20 points back
Net gain -- one spot, 14 points
Chase results -- 2nd at New Hampshire, 11th at Dover, 5th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Absolutely. Just make sure to finish ahead of Johnson.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Three wins in the past six Talladega races, including the April race.

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer
Rank -- 3rd, 14 points back
Started the Chase -- 12th, 60 points back
Net gain -- nine spots, 46 points
Chase results -- 1st at New Hampshire, 12th at Dover, 2nd at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- He's the hottest driver in the series right now. Stay that way and he's the champ.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- His own little purgatory. In three starts, he finished 35th twice and 40th once.

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart
Rank -- 4th, 117 points back
Started the Chase -- 3rd, 30 points back
Net gain/loss -- up one spot, down 87 points
Chase results -- 3rd at New Hampshire, 9th at Dover, 39th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Yes. Just stay calm, meditate and think good thoughts.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Due for a 'Dega victory after three 2nd-place finishes in the past five events on the Alabama giant.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick
Rank -- 5th, 126 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for sixth, 50 points back
Net gain/loss -- one spot up, 76 points down
Chase results -- 17th at New Hampshire, 20th at Dover, 6th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Sure, if Kansas was an omen of things to come on the 1.5-mile ovals.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Seven top-10s in his past nine Talladega starts.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch
Rank -- 6th, 136 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for 6th, 50 points back
Net loss -- 86 points
Chase results -- 4th at New Hampshire, 5th at Dover, 41st at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Yes, but needs to stay away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the track.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- No winning hand here. He has finished 32nd or worse in five Talladega starts.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards
Rank -- 7th, 142 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for fourth, 40 points back
Net loss -- three spots, 102 points
Chase results -- 12th at New Hampshire, 1st at Dover, 37th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- About five top-5s might do it. Then again, it might not.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Three top-10s in his past four starts at 'Dega.

Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr.
Rank -- 8th, 158 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for 6th, 50 points back
Net loss -- lost two spots, 108 points
Chase results -- 5th at New Hampshire, 13th at Dover, 38th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- If the seven guys ahead of him forget how to drive.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Two top-10s in his past three starts at the big track.

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch
Rank -- 9th, 177 points back
Started the Chase -- five spots, 137 points
Net loss -- seven spots, 111 points
Chase results -- 25th at New Hampshire, 29th at Dover, 11th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Three Chase races, no top-10s. Might be too late now.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Mr. Consistent at 'Dega. Eighth or better in seven of the past eight races here.

Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton
Rank -- 10th, 186 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for 6th, 50 points back
Net loss -- four spots, 136 points
Chase results -- 18th at New Hampshire, 7th at Dover, 39th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Use AT&T to phone home. It's over.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Not his favorite place. He finished 27th or worse in the three of the last four at Talladega.

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth
Rank -- 11th, 219 points back
Started the Chase -- five spots, 169 points
Net loss -- five spots, 169 points
Chase results -- 7th at New Hampshire, 35th at Dover, 35th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Back to back 35ths. He's done.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Sixth or better in three of the last four Talladega races.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin
Rank -- 12th, 248 points back
Started the Chase -- tied for sixth, 50 points back
Net loss -- six spots, 198 points
Chase results -- 15th at New Hampshire, 38th at Dover, 29th at Kansas
Can he still win it? -- Thanks for playing.
Is Talladega his lucky wild card? -- Has yet to crack the top 20 in three Talladega starts.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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