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Bruce: No guarantees winless will make Chase

May 08, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson Kasey Kahne

As season carries on, winless heavyweights could get left in dust of Chase field

NASCAR’s list of potential championship candidates continues to grow, and we’ve not yet reached midway to the cutoff for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Halfway to halfway isn’t here, but it’s drawing closer.

On the “who’s going to make the Chase” front, half the 16 positions up for grabs now appear to be spoken for, secured or otherwise claimed.

That’s unofficial, of course; one of those “If the Chase started today,” scenarios.

It doesn’t, by the way.

That being the case, it’s doubtful that anyone is running down the hallway in shops across the land, banging on dyno-room doors and yelling across chassis set-up plates, urging everyone to “get this thing turned around.” Panic, if it’s out there, awaits somewhere over the horizon. The series heads to Kansas City this week, meaning that we’re still plodding through the flatlands, literally and figuratively.

Denny Hamlin, who closed the curtain on 2013 with a win at Homestead, became the most recent winner of 2014, coasting his way to victory at Talladega Superspeedway with the appearance of a final yellow flag. He joins a list of not-so-surprising winners consisting of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano. The races may be ripe for the picking, but the ladder’s getting crowded.

Winless streaks have fallen by the wayside -- Earnhardt Jr. knocked the rust off and won right out of the box, ending a 55-race drought; Kurt Busch returned to Victory Lane after more than 80 fruitless attempts.

Maybe we won’t get to 16 different winners by early September. Then again, did anyone think the series would see eight in just the first 10 races? In the land of “anyone can win one of these things,” anyone usually comes up short. And that’s been the case this year as well.

As for those still searching for directions to Victory Lane?

No big deal? Plenty of time?

Earning one of the 16 available berths didn’t seem like such a difficult proposition back in February, when everything was fresh and new and the only thing between themselves and the Chase was a list of 26 opportunities. Twenty-six races? No problem; see you guys in Richmond.

But somewhere between Daytona and Talladega, opportunity took a holiday. Called in sick. Moved out and didn’t leave a forwarding address.

Drivers and teams that were considered sure-fire winners? Several are now 0-for-10. Including Jeff Gordon, a guy that used to win with regularity; Matt Kenseth, who led the league in individual race trophies collected last year; and Jimmie Johnson, a guy that goes 0-for-10 about as often as it snows in the desert.

The good news for those three is that they’ve been in contention even if they haven’t managed to close the deal. The bad news is there are no guarantees.

Clint Bowyer? Kasey Kahne? Tony Stewart? Winless, winless and winless. And perhaps more disturbing -- on most occasions, those three haven’t really been close. Others are somewhere in between.

Here’s what you’ll likely hear in the coming weeks as drivers continue to come up short and the number of opportunities continue to dwindle.

“We’ve got some of our best tracks coming up.”

“This is the time of the year when we typically begin to run better.”

“As long as we maintain our points position, we should be OK.”

Race fans often complain of seeing the same driver win again and again. Domination isn’t often appreciated among the masses. It’s detested.

Fortunately, there’s been no such problem this season. Variety has been the constant, if such a thing is possible.

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