Commentary

Some Chase pretenders, some contenders and some it's hard to say

The object in Sprint Cup racing is to win the title. But first you have to make the Chase, and Terry Blount breaks down the realistic chances of the top 15 drivers in the standings to do just that.

Updated: July 19, 2008, 3:13 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

David RaganJohn Harrelson/Getty ImagesDavid Ragan is trying to be one of at least four Roush Fenway Racing drivers in the Chase.

It's all about making the Chase in NASCAR. Only 12 drivers will, so here's a look at the top 15 and their outlook during the next seven races, starting with the boys on the bubble:

15. David Ragan
David Ragan

Car: No. 6 Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Points behind 12th: 98
Why he could make it: Part of a strong organization at RFR and getting the support he needs to improve.
Why he might fall short: A second-year driver that needs a little more seasoning before he's capable of doing enough things right to make the playoff.
Prediction: An outstanding sophomore season, but not a Chase year.

14. Brian Vickers
Brian Vickers

Car: No. 83 Toyota
Team: Red Bull Racing
Points behind 12th: 95
Why he could make it: Most improved team this season. Has finished 16th or better in the previous seven races, including three in the top six. Toyota horsepower and playoff-level talent in Vickers. He has raced well this season on large tracks with limited banking, which accounts for four of the seven events before the Chase.
Why he might fall short: The No. 83 crew has made giant strides forward, but still has some weak spots that appear at key moments.
Prediction: If he keeps up the recent consistency, he will become the surprise in the Chase.

13. Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer

Car: No. 07 Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Points behind 12th: 27
Why he could make it: He won at Richmond in May. If he can repeat that feat in the Richmond Chase decider race, he'll earn a playoff spot.
Why he might fall short: Has finished 22nd or worse in six of the last eight races.
Prediction: No repeat win at Richmond and no repeat trip to the Chase.

12. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin

Car: No. 11 Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 27
Why he could make it: He's part of the best organization in Cup right now. Made the Chase in each of his first two seasons.
Why he might fall short: Only one top-10 finish in the last five races and five finishes of 24th or worse in the last eight events.
Prediction: If he fails to make the Chase on this team there should be an investigation.

11. Kasey Kahne
Kasey Kahne

Car: No. 9 Dodge
Team: Gillett Evernham Motorsports
Points ahead of 13th: 39
Why he could make it: Won at Pocono earlier this year, which is one of the remaining races before the Chase, and Kahne posted three consecutive top-10s in the three events before the Chase last year.
Why he might fall short: Inconsistent with three finishes of 30th or worse in the last seven races.
Prediction: He'll have to get hot again to make the playoff, but it doesn't look good.

10. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart

Car: No. 20 Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 49
Why he could make it: Wants to leave JGR with a bang.
Why he might fall short: Lame-duck status rarely works out well in NASCAR.
Prediction: His bad luck in the first half of the season will turn around this summer and he'll make the show.

9. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick

Car: No. 29 Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 52
Why he could make it: A veteran driver who has made the Chase the last two seasons.
Why he might fall short: Only one top-10 finish in the last nine races.
Prediction: Judging by the last two months, it looks shaky. But he might edge out RCR teammate Bowyer for the final spot.

8. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth

Car: No. 17 Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 61
Why he could make it: Has rocketed up the rankings, going from 22nd to eighth during the last 10 races.
Why he might fall short: If he races the way he did at the start of the season.
Prediction: Mr. Consistency isn't going backwards now.

7. Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle

Car: No. 16 Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 62
Why he could make it: Having his best season since 2005 when he finished second in the standings. Biffle has a new contract with RFR and feels good about his team for the first time in three years.
Why he might fall short: Has only one top-10 finish in the last six races.
Prediction: He'll make it, but not by much.

6. Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon

Car: No. 24 Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Points ahead of 13th: 128
Why he could make it: He had four top-10s, including three top-5s, in the seven races before the Chase last year.
Why he might fall short: If he suddenly decides to join his wife on a modeling junket in Europe.
Prediction: He'll make it and try to earn that elusive fifth title.

5. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

Car: No. 48 Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Points ahead of 13th: 238
Why he could make it: Johnson has finished worse than 15th only once during the last seven races. He posted top-10s in five of those races.
Why he might fall short: If he falls off the roof of a golf cart and breaks his arm.
Prediction: He'll try to become the first man in 30 years to win three consecutive Cup championships.

4. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards

Car: No. 99 Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 253
Why he could make it: Edwards has been the second-best driver most of the season. His three wins make him the only driver besides Kyle Busch who has more than two victories, but lost 100 points (plus 10 in the Chase seeding) to the penalty from his oil tank violation at Las Vegas.
Why he might fall short: If the Aflac duck takes over the driving duties.
Prediction: He probably has the best chance to overtake Busch for the title.

3. Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton

Car: No. 31 Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 334
Why he could make it: Hasn't ranked outside the top 12 all season and hasn't been lower than third in the standings since the start of April.
Why he might fall short: If he set a NASCAR record by posting seven consecutive DNFs.
Prediction: He'll try to win the title by doing what he's done all season; playing the points game and staying out of trouble.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Car: No. 88 Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Points ahead of 13th: 363
Why he could make it: He has the best car this season of the superstar trio at Hendrick, posting 12 top-10s in 19 races.
Why he might fall short: If his sponsor, the National Guard, signs him up and calls him to active duty.
Prediction: He has a legitimate shot to end his first season at Hendrick with his first Cup championship.

1. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

Car: No. 18 Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Points ahead of 13th: 625
Why he could make it: As Kyle might say, "Duh." The man has seven victories. It's his world and everyone else is just along for the ride.
Why he might fall short: If he suddenly decides trying to win the Nationwide title is more important.
Prediction: He's the overwhelming favorite to win his first Cup crown.

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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