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Head2Head: Will current top 10 remain in the top 10 after RIR?

August 08, 2011, , NASCAR.com

Just five races remain until the Chase begins and the postseason picture is becoming a little more clearer ... or is it? Twenty-three points separate 11th-place Denny Hamlin from the Chase field, and the wild card literally won't be decided until the final lap at Richmond.

Will the current top 10 remain the same after Richmond?

YES NO

Yes, there are five races left before the Chase, but the only drama that remains will be who gets the two wild-card spots, because the top 10 in points will be there when the checkered drops at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin is the only driver with any real chance of breaking into the top 10 with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. the two drivers who could fall out. Stewart is 24 points to the good with Earnhardt 23 ahead of Hamlin, and I just don't see the No. 11 team making that up with five races to go.

For Hamlin to crack the top 10, he needs to finish at least five spots higher than Stewart and Earnhardt in the final five races. On paper, it seems relatively small, but with this new points system, making up 25 points is not an easy task.

To put it in perspective, in the past six races, Hamlin has out-pointed Earnhardt by 27, and that is with Earnhardt in a horrible slide with just one top 10 and two finishes of 30th or worse. With five races to go, the task is simply too daunting.

The biggest issue for Hamlin has been consistency. There has not been a time this season where he has posted five consecutive top-15s -- something seems to hit this team every four to five races.

Without a doubt in my mind, Hamlin will make the Chase. Heck, the way he ran at Michigan and Richmond this year, he will probably win again and lock himself into the wild card. But the current top 10 have been too strong this year to lose 25 points when it matters the most.

Bill Kimm, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

If there's one thing we've learned from this Sprint Cup season, it's that nothing is assured. Unless, of course, you were the lone genius who knew Trevor Bayne would win the Daytona 500, Paul Menard would win the Brickyard 400 and two-time series champion Tony Stewart would be winless into August.

That's precisely why no one should make any bets on this top 10 being unassailable in the final five races before the Chase. The ninth- and 10th-place drivers (Stewart and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.) have yet to reach Victory Lane and are in very real danger of falling out of the top 10.

Denny Hamlin, who was a bad day on pit road away from a strong finish at Pocono, is just 23 points out of the top 10 and 24 points out of passing Stewart for ninth. You're going to tell me you are 100 percent positive that Hamlin can't pick up an average of five points a race over the next five?

His lone win this season came at Michigan, where the Cup cars head next week. He was second at his hometown Richmond in May, and has two victories, two poles and six top-five finishes in 11 career starts there.

At Pocono, Earnhardt earned his first top-10 out of his past seven races. Does that sound like someone riding a hot streak into the playoffs? Stewart has been stronger recently, but has not come on in the summer heat as he usually does.

I'm not saying Hamlin is assured of breaking into the top 10. It's just that, as Brad Keselowski said, "Nothing is 100 percent until it's 100 percent."

Jill Erwin, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Bill Kimm and Jill Erwin took a look at the standings and have two completely different takes on how things could change in these final five races before the postseason. Are the current top 10 going to stay the same when the Chase starts? Read both sides of the argument and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in the poll at the right.

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