Stewart closest thing to a lock to make Chase; Kahne the long shot
Will Jeff Gordon tumble out of the Chase picture at Richmond? Will Kasey Kahne pull off a miracle and get back in it? Terry Blount handicaps their chances.
RICHMOND, Va. -- It can't be comforting to David Ragan to know that the driver he has to catch for the final Chase spot is the driver who won the last race at Richmond International Raceway.Then again, that victory was a bit of a fluke. Clint Bowyer was the beneficiary of a Kyle Busch bump on leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. While they tangled on the track, Bowyer scooted by and took the checkered flag at RIR in May.Bowyer leads Ragan by 17 points for the 12th and final Chase spot entering the rescheduled Chevy Rock and Roll 400 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN360), the last chance to make the 10-race playoff field."I don't think I've ever been in this situation," said Ragan, a second-year driver who is the surprise of the Chase contenders. "It's such a highly watched, one-race kind of deal where you're make or break to get to the next level." Bowyer started 12th in the 2007 Chase as the only driver who didn't have a victory entering the playoff, but he won the first Chase race at New Hampshire and finished third in the standings at the end of the season.
Kyle Busch (pictured), Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton already have spots reserved in the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup. But spots 6 through 12 won't be decided until this weekend's race at Richmond. Here are how the contenders stack up:• Greg Biffle: Needs to start the race. • Kevin Harvick: Needs to start the race. • Tony Stewart: Finish 36th, finish 37th and lead at least one lap, or finish 40th and lead the most laps. • Matt Kenseth: Finish 26th, finish 28th and lead at least one lap, or finish 30th and lead the most laps. • Jeff Gordon: Finish 24th, finish 25th and lead at least one lap, or finish 28th and lead the most laps. • Denny Hamlin: Finish 21st, finish 22nd and lead at least one lap, or finish 25th and lead the most laps. • Clint Bowyer: Win, or finish third and lead the most laps. • David Ragan: Win and lead the most laps. *Kasey Kahne is the only other driver mathematically eligible if Ragan and Kahne start the race.
What needs to happen: Just keep his cool and not do anything stupid. Stewart will clinch if he finishes 36th or better. He can do that in his sleep, if the engine doesn't blow on the No. 20 Toyota or unless someone else wrecks his car. Chances he'll make it: 95 percent. Matt Kenseth
What needs to happen: A little tougher deal than Stewart because he has to finish 26th or better to clinch. But the same thing applies. Mr. Consistency will do this unless the tires fall off the No. 17 Ford. Chances he'll make it: 90 percent. Jeff Gordon
What needs to happen: Gordon's clinch number is 24th or better. If the No. 24 car can't finish 24th, the team doesn't deserve to make the Chase. As long as he stays out of trouble, Gordon will have a shot at that elusive fifth championship.Chances he'll make it: 80 percent. Denny Hamlin
What needs to happen: He has to finish 21st or better at his home track, where he usually runs well. Hamlin dominated the race and led 381 laps at Richmond in May, but he cut a tire near the end and finished 24th. Chances he'll make it: 75 percent. Clint Bowyer
What needs to happen: If Bowyer finishes ahead of Ragan and Kahne, he's in. But that's a big if. For example, if Kahne finishes third, Ragan ends up ninth and Bowyer 15th, Bowyer is out, unless something crazy happens to the other Chase contenders. The simplest clinch is to do what he did in May -- win the race. Chances he'll make it: 60 percent. David Ragan
What needs to happen: A lot of things, but Bowyer having a bad night is his best option. Ragan could win the race and not make the Chase. If he wins and doesn't lead the most laps, he's still out if Bowyer finishes second and leads a lap.Chances he'll make it: 40 percent. Kasey Kahne
What needs to happen: Finish near the front while Bowyer and Ragan have bad nights. Kahne has finished in the top 10 at RIR in five of his past seven starts on the short track, including a victory in 2005. Even a win might not be enough this time.Chances he'll make it: 25 percent. Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.