Commentary

Chase bubble slippery with four to go

Updated: August 17, 2009, 10:47 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

For Chase hopefuls, it's down to the final four.

Four more races -- Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond -- to secure one of the 12 spots in the 10-race playoff.

Only one person has all but clinched: Tony Stewart. His victory Monday at Watkins Glen means Stewart is in the Chase as long as he starts one of the next four events.

Five others are safe, barring four consecutive finishes near the back of the pack: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

But only 141 points separate ninth (Ryan Newman) from 15th (Clint Bowyer) in the Sprint Cup standings.

A driver can gain or lose a maximum of 161 points in one race. Six drivers in the top 12 are fewer than 161 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch.

And four drivers outside the Chase cutoff are within 161 points of Matt Kenseth in 12th.

So here's a look at those 10 drivers and their chances of making the playoff for the 2009 Cup championship:

Montoya

7) Juan Pablo Montoya

Points ahead of 13th: 154.
Chances of making it: 90 percent.
What needs to go right: Stick to the conservative strategy the team has used all season. Montoya admits they are points racing. Winning isn't the top objective and hasn't been all season. The goal was to play it safe and make the Chase.
What could go wrong: Taking unnecessary chances. Montoya has nine consecutive finishes in the top 12. That's good enough.


Kahne

8) Kasey Kahne

Points ahead of 13th: 127.
Chances of making it: 80 percent.
What needs to go right: Forget about the tough day at Watkins Glen (17th) and continue the summer trend of five top-10s in the previous six races.
What could go wrong: Fail to improve on his finishes at Michigan (21st) and Richmond (29th) earlier this year.


Newman

9) Ryan Newman

Points ahead of 13th: 100.
Chances of making it: 70 percent.
What needs to go right: End his mini-slump. Newman has only one top-10 in the last eight races. But he probably has enough of a points cushion that he can slide in from here.
What could go wrong: Think he's safe and post more finishes of 20th or worse, which he's done half the time over the last two months.


Biffle

10) Greg Biffle

Points ahead of 13th: 91.
Chances of making it: 60 percent.
What needs to go right: Continue to run the way he has in the last three races with two top-5s.
What could go wrong: A repeat of his bad luck at Atlanta and Bristol in the spring. Biffle was 34th at Atlanta after a crash and 39th at Bristol after an engine problem.


Martin

11) Mark Martin

Points ahead of 13th: 89.
Chances of making it: 65 percent.
What needs to go right: Avoid the good-week, bad-week scenario that has plagued him this season. And a repeat of his June fuel-mileage win at Michigan in the series' return this weekend would help.
What could go wrong: The inconsistency that's gotten him in the spot despite a remarkable season with four victories at age 50. If he doesn't make it, fans will howl for NASCAR to change the points system next year by placing more emphasis on winning.


Kenseth

12) Matt Kenseth

Points ahead of 13th: 58.
Chances of making it: 50 percent.
What needs to go right: His skills as a master points racer have to come through now and make up for what the team is lacking in performance.
What could go wrong: Do the same thing he did earlier this season at the four upcoming tracks. His average finish at those four was 19.5 and he didn't post a top 10 in any of those events.


Busch

13) Kyle Busch

Points behind 12th: 58.
Chances of making it: 60 percent.
What needs to go right: Continue to act like a big boy and play it smart, taking what he can get without being overly aggressive.
What could go wrong: Revert back to anger mode and allow his emotions to get the best of him if things don't go his way. He won at Bristol and Richmond earlier this year. Just come close to that this time without taking risks and he'll make it.


Vickers

14) Brian Vickers

Points behind 12th: 96.
Chances of making it: 40 percent.
What needs to go right: Keep up the pace. His average finish in the last five races is 7.2. Do that over the next four races -- no easy task -- and he could make it.
What could go wrong: Do what he did earlier this year at the next four tracks with an average finish of 14.5. That won't be good enough. He's never made the Chase, but the guy behind him has.


Bowyer

15) Clint Bowyer

Points behind 12th: 99.
Chances of making it: 50 percent.
What needs to go right: He's on a roll that must continue to give him a chance. Bowyer has finished ninth or better in three of the last four races. He knows how this works after making the Chase the last two seasons.
What could go wrong: The drivers ahead of him don't falter. Bowyer needs help with some bad finishes by the guys in front of him.


Reutimann

16) David Reutimann

Points behind 12th: 155.
Chances of making it: 10 percent.
What needs to go right: A four-race surge that shows miracles are possible.
What could go wrong: It already did. Getting punted by Denny Hamlin at Pocono all but doomed Reutimann, and the 25th-place showing Monday didn't help.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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