July 26, 2011
by Lee

The final off weekend of the season has come and gone for the drivers and crews in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This weekend will be the 20th race of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is otherwise known as the Brickyard 400. Although we all know at this point that the seats are not going to be packed to the hilt as they were a few years back for this race, the attendance of the race does not reduce the amount of points that will be handed out to the drivers when the checkered flag falls.

Including the Brickyard 400, there are only seven races to go before the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Gosh, where has the year gone, it seems like we were just back at Daytona for the 500 to get things started. The time has come for me to make my Chase predictions on who is going to be in and who is going to be out.

The following drivers are a lock to be in the Chase:

  • Carl Edwards – Currently the points leader in the Sprint Cup Series and has a win this year. Carl would have to wreck just about every week to fall out of Chase qualification.
  • Jimmie Johnson – Did anyone really think the five time in a row champion would be anywhere else other than towards the top of the standings.
  • Kurt Busch – Kurt has been strong at times, and has looked dismal at times. He has been strong enough to be third in points right now. Look for this Penske team to remain strong going into the Chase. Remember, he is a past Champion as well so he knows how to get it done.
  • Kyle Busch – Kyle already had three wins on the season, need I say anymore.
  • Kevin Harvick – Kevin has three wins in the series this year as well.
  • Matt Kenseth – Matt has two wins and is a strong sixth in the points right now. This is a great position to be in heading into the home stretch of Chase qualification.
  • Jeff Gordon – Gordon has had an up and down year as well. We have seen vintage Gordon with two wins already, but we have also seen his struggle on some tracks. He is currently seventh in the points, and Indy is one of his best tracks.

The following drivers are my selection to make the Chase, but at this point are not on solid enough foundation to be called a lock.

  • Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is currently in the final points qualifying spot (10th) to make the Chase going into this weekend. Denny has a win this season, but I feel like this team is ready to come on strong in the next several races to sure up his spot.
  • Tony Stewart – When the weather gets hot, Smoke is rolling. Stewart is currently out of the top ten in points, but would qualify for the Chase in the 12th spot because only one other driver has a win in spots 11 through 20 giving them a wild card birth. Stewart has some good tracks coming up as well, and he will show us those summer driving skills that will land him in the Chase.
  • Ryan Newman – Newman did himself a huge favor by winning the race at New Hampshire. Newman is eighth in the points right now and looking good. Another win, or some solid top ten runs in the next three or four weeks will put him over the top. He will have to look out for his boss Tony Stewart though.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Jr. has had some difficulty through the summer months so far. Early in the season Dale consistently moved through the field as the race went on and had strong finishes. I feel this team is going to rebound now that the chips are on the table and it is go time. Jr. may not get the elusive win that so many fans want, but I think he will be right where he needs to be when the Chase rolls around.
  • Clint Bowyer – Boyer is going to get a win or move up in the points standings to race for the Championship. Clint is too good of a driver, and his team is too good to not find a way in. Bowyer has been in this position before where he needed great finishes to make it into the Chase. He gets it done and is one of the cars vying for the championship.

A couple of why they will not make the Chase:

  • David Ragan – I like Ragan and it was great to see him win at Daytona earlier this season. Ragan though has been too inconsistent from race to race. Sometimes we see him up front, and there are broadcasts I cannot recall seeing his car.
  • Kasey Kahne – Kasey is in a tough situation right now. Red Bull is going to be shutting the team down at the end of the year, and Kasey is going to Hendrick next year. It will be hard to keep things heading in a positive direction in order to maintain the performance needed to get into the Chase.
  • Brad Keselowski – Keselowski is just too far back in the point at this time. Brad has a win and needs to get into the top 20 in points before that win will propel him into the Chase. Once again inconsistency has been a part of this team all season. I just do not see them putting together a seven race run to get there.
  • Regan Smith – Another fun to watch first time winner this season. He is way too far back in points to get there.

Like my list? Don’t like my list? Leave a comment and let us know what you think. Send us a twitter message as well: @troublinturntwo

To qualify for the Chase a driver must be in the top ten in points at the conclusion of the 26th race at Richmond in September. Two wild card drivers will make the Chase from those drivers in points position 11th through 20th with the most wins. If no drivers meet that qualification, the drivers in points position 11th and 12th will qualify. If there are drivers in 11th through 20th who are tied for wins, the driver with the higher points position will qualify for the Chase.

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