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Kyle Busch becomes fifth chase prospect

March 23, 2014, Staff report,

Busch takes advantage of late caution for repeat win at Auto Club 400

Kyle Busch has become the fifth driver to practically clinch a spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after winning the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif., for the second year in a row on Sunday.

Busch's win moved him up from 14th to seventh in the Sprint Cup Series points standings; he started the race 14th and led just five of the 206 laps.

Jimmie Johnson led more than half the laps (104), and was trying to hold off teammate Jeff Gordon when he blew a tire with seven laps to go. Johnson ended up 24th.

Busch now has 29 career Sprint Cup wins at the age of 28. He held off hard-charging rookie Kyle Larson, who won the Nationwide Series race a day earlier.

Carl Edwards, who finished 10th Sunday, became the fourth driver to essentially punch his Chase ticket when he won the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend.

The top five drivers in the points standings are separated by just seven points. Edwards (186 points) leads, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (185 points), Jeff Gordon (184 points), Brad Keselowski (182 points) and Matt Kenseth (179 points).

Two weeks ago, Keselowski won at Las Vegas by passing Earnhardt Jr., who ran out of gas on the final lap.

Earnhardt Jr. and his team were the first to win this season when he opened the season with a win at the Daytona 500, and Kevin Harvick won the season's second race at Phoenix.

While the other four race winners currently rank among the top seven in the points standings, Harvick is in 25th.

Drivers with a win need a top-30 standing after 26 races to earn a spot in the 10-race playoff, which concludes with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

If Kyle Busch, Edwards, Keselowski, Harvick or Earnhardt Jr. win again this season, they will be guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

After the fifth race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings look:

Pos. Driver Chase berth
1. Carl Edwards
Winner: Bristol
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Winner: Daytona
3. Brad Keselowski
Winner: Las Vegas
4. Kyle Busch
Winner: Auto Club
5. Kevin Harvick
Winner: Phoenix
6. Jeff Gordon
3rd in points
7. Matt Kenseth
5th in points
8. Jimmie Johnson
6th in points
9. Ryan Newman
8th in points
10. Austin Dillon
9th in points
11. Joey Logano
10th in points
12. Denny Hamlin
11th in points
13. Jamie McMurray
12th in points
14. Brian Vickers
13th in points
15. Paul Menard
14th in points
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
15th in points


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