Only 89 points separate seventh through 14 in the Sprint Cup Series points standings.
With only two races remaining to lock in this year's Chase field, a lot can change over the next 14 days.
|Brian Vickers, 14th place: 'I know we can get in the Chase. It doesn't mean we will.' (Getty Images)|
Now it comes down to only races at Atlanta and Richmond to decide this year's elite field of 12.
Drivers holding down the first eight spots in the standings don't have much to worry about over the next two races. Rather than sweat out qualifying for the playoffs, simply trying to win is the goal of this group.
That's a relief for Carl Edwards, who knows what it's like to go down to the wire.
"In 2005, that last race at Richmond took a year off of my life," said Edwards, who although is still winless in 2009 holds the fifth spot in the standings. "That was stressful. And then in 2007, I think, we were close to making it."
"We gathered enough points, and then we blew the engine at Richmond, and if we hadn't gathered all those points leading up to that, we'd have been in trouble. But, it worked out still. It is part of it. You've got to go out there and get all the points you can. It's a little bit different way to race."
Unlike his Roush Fenway teammate, Matt Kenseth doesn't have the luxury of sleeping well from now until the checkered flag flies in Richmond on Sept. 12. Kenseth is on the bubble and only a mere 34 points ahead of Kyle Busch for the 12th and final Chase position.
After opening the season with wins in the Daytona 500 and the following race in California, Kenseth hasn't had much else to celebrate. He has however been consistent enough to at least keep him in the hunt for the Chase.
"I'm surprised we're even in the top 12," Kenseth said. "We ran not the greatest and finished even worse. For the last few months, we just really haven't had any good finishes. ... We're very, very fortunate to be where we are in the points right now, and we all know that we need to start finishing better and need to start finishing at least as good as we're running or better."
"We still haven't been able to do that, so once we start doing that, I'll think about it more. But, to be honest, I'm just happy and surprised that we're in it right now."
Busch's victory at Bristol last Saturday -- his fourth of the season -- continued his drive up the standings and he is now knocking on the Chase door hard.
|Race to the Chase (through 25 races)|
|8. Juan Montoya||3,145||+88|
|9. Ryan Newman||3,138||+81|
|10. Mark Martin||3,126||+69|
|11. Greg Biffle||3,125||+68|
|12. Matt Kenseth||3,077||+20|
|13. Brian Vickers||3,057||-20|
|14. Kyle Busch||3,040||-37|
|15. David Reutimann||2,945||-132|
|Top 20, driver averages & more|
|NOTE: The top 12 drivers in the standings after 26 races make the Chase.|
Already brimming with confidence after holding off Mark Martin for the Bristol victory, Busch can also take heart in his past performance at the two remaining tracks of the regular season.
Busch won at the 1.5-mile Atlanta oval in 2008 and has registered seven top-10 finishes, including a victory in nine career Cup starts at Richmond.
Busch plans to concentrate only on what he can do at the final two races and not worry about those drivers ahead of him in the standings.
"We can't control how everyone else runs, but if we can keep doing what we have been, there's a chance we can get all of them second-guessing themselves, at times," he said. "You've just got to keep going, and those statements will be made, but you can't concentrate on them. You have to worry about what you can control."
Fourteenth-place Brian Vickers also feels he controls his own fate. Vickers, who trails Kenseth by 39 points, understands his only shot at making the Chase cutoff is by finishing well the next two weekends.
"I know we can get in the Chase," Vickers said. "It doesn't mean we will. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, and we can't make any mistakes."
I'd say that holds true for at least six drivers trying to keep their championship hopes alive the next two weeks.
• Don't bury The Milwaukee Mile just yet. There are strong indications a new promotional group has salvaged the venerable track and NASCAR will return with the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series in 2010. It's not a done deal by any means, but reports over the weekend look promising. As for the IRL, the sanctioning body does not appear to be interested in returning.
• NASCAR's new Nationwide Series car will run four times in 2010 in preparation for a full roll-out the following season. The new COT will make its debut next July at Daytona and then run three more times over the balance of the schedule.
• Richard Petty Motorsports won't be switching to Toyota. Several sources indicate RPM will remain in the Dodge camp for the foreseeable future although unless more sponsorship is found there is a strong chance the stable will shrink from four to three cars in 2010.