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Want a guaranteed spot in the Chase? Just win, baby

September 03, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Eight drivers still mathematically alive for season-ending, 10-race showdown

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Now that 10 drivers have punched their tickets for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, you'd like to think the final two spots in NASCAR's postseason should be easier to calculate.

You'd think wrong.

Follow your favorite driver's chance of winning this week's race and making the Chase.

With their finishes at Atlanta, the top nine drivers in the point standings guaranteed themselves a place in the Chase. And despite finishing a dismal 22nd, Tony Stewart clinched no worse than a wild card spot because of his three wins in 2012.

But from there, break out the calculators.

With a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Speedway -- and corresponding bad luck for drivers ahead of them in the standings -- at least eight drivers still have a mathematical chance at making the 10-race Chase.

There were lots of smiling, relieved faces Saturday night as Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick joined the four drivers who had earlier clinched Chase spots.

Michael Waltrip was thrilled that Truex and Bowyer made it in, although that excitement was tempered somewhat when victory was snatched away from Truex in the closing laps.

"We're so disappointed that Martin didn't win and then we have to be thankful we're in the Chase," Waltrip said. "I don't know -- you're supposed to be happy when you race and you have success, but somehow we were able to rob the joy of making the Chase. I don't know how, but we did."

Hamlin did win, not only putting at least one of Joe Gibbs' cars in the Chase field for 2012, but keeping teammate Kyle Busch's hopes alive for another week.

"We realize ... this is not easy, so you have to really appreciate the wins and enjoy them," team president J.D. Gibbs said. "I think it lays a great foundation for the Chase, and I think Denny knew it, too, when he held off Jeff Gordon. He knew that gave Kyle a chance next week to clinch that Chase spot."

That feeling carried over to Penske Racing, after Keselowski's third-place run guaranteed there'd be a Dodge in the Chase this year.

"We're one week away from when the final exam starts at Chicagoland," said Travis Geisler, Penske's director of competition. "The test tonight went pretty smooth and we're happy to make the Chase again with the No. 2 team."

"[We have] to go into Richmond and win. We have done it before and we can do it again."


At the same time, eight teams loaded up their haulers, knowing they have just one more race to find the winning combination necessary to grab one of the two remaining Chase berths.

One of those is Kasey Kahne, who has two wins and is 11th in the standings. But thanks to the complexities of the wild card rule, he could still be the odd man out after Richmond -- that is, if Tony Stewart slips out of the top 10 and either Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon gets a second victory Saturday night.

"I felt like I probably lost about 10 spots," Kahne said after finishing 23rd at Atlanta. "But we're still in 11th and have two wins and I think we're sitting decent. I'd imagine Tony is just a touch better, so he could fall out.

"So there are some things there that could still go on and we could probably miss the Chase pretty easily. Hopefully we won't have another race like this and we'll be all right."

So what's the best way to assure yourself of a ticket to the Chase? In the immortal words of NFL owner Al Davis, "Just win, baby." However, there is a mathematical chance that Kahne, Busch or Gordon could still bounce Stewart out of the top 10 without having to win at Richmond.

But Carl Edwards is now 49 points behind 10th place, which means he's in a "must win" situation next weekend -- plus he has to leap over both Busch and Gordon in the standings, as all three drivers would be tied with one win each.

That's a similar situation for Paul Menard, while a second win would do wonders for the Chase chances of Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

Newman, for one, isn't about to give up without a fight.

"[We have] to go into Richmond and win," Newman said. "We have done it before and we can do it again."