Thursday August 13th, 2009

The fine folks at my favorite NASCAR blog, All Left Turns have a very interesting probability table that analyzes the Chase-qualifying chances of several drivers. I'm not too sure about the methodology, but the table does confirm what most of us already know: Kyle Busch is just about the only driver outside of the top 12 with a decent chance (43 percent to be exact) of making the Cup series' postseason.

But who needs to falter? Beginning with Greg Biffle in 10th place and just 91 points ahead of Busch (90 percent chance of making the Chase), there are three (Biffle, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth) drivers within reach. But all three are very good at Michigan, with none having anything worse than an average finish of 12.9 in 80 combined starts. Busch's average finish at Michigan, on the other hand, is 16.9. If all goes according to historical norms this weekend, that basically leaves him with just three starts to worm his way through a rapidly closing door.

Here's how Biffle, Martin, Kenseth and Busch fare at the last three tracks on the regular season schedule.

Greg Biffle: Bristol: 0 wins, 12.1 Average Finish; Atlanta: 0 wins, 15.9 Average Finish;; Richmond: 0 wins, 15.8 Average Finish

Mark Martin: Bristol: 2 wins, 12.7 Average Finish; Atlanta: 2 wins, 17.2 Average Finish; Richmond: 1 win, 11.9 Average Finish

Matt Kenseth: Bristol: 2 wins, 13.3 Average Finish; Atlanta: 0 wins, 13.8 Average Finish; Richmond: 1 win, 16.7 Average Finish

Kyle Busch: Bristol: 2 wins, 11.2 Average Finish; Atlanta: 1 win, 18.2 Average Finish; Richmond: 1 win, 6.1 Average Finish

So, who's the safest? I think it's Mark Martin, with all of his experience and talent, as well as all of the resources available to him at Hendrick Motorsports. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't make the Chase.

Who's in the most danger? Kenseth, and not just because he only leads Busch by 58 points. With as hard as Busch will be charging in the coming weeks, Kenseth is going to have to do considerably better than normal at all three tracks. And don't be fooled by Busch's average finish of 18.2 at the ATL. His average finish there since he moved to Joe Gibbs Racing is a rock solid 8.0. He really doesn't have a weak point in this schedule.

Busch hates to race for points. Hates it. But he knows now that points are what he needs. Kenseth can't afford to make any mistakes. And he can't count on Busch to make any either.

349: Career Cup starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

18: Career Cup victories for Earnhardt

12: Number of Cup starts Earnhardt needed to win his first career Cup race, at Texas on April 2, 2000

43: Number of starts for Earnhardt since his last victory, at Michigan on June 15, 2008

The great guitarist Les Paul passed away today (Thursday) at the age of 94. It's hard to understate the man's influence -- Lester William Polsfuss basically made possible all the music you've ever listened to. He invented the solid-body electric guitar. He was the first artist ever to release an album that used multi-track recording, which means that without him, there might not have been a Wall of Sound. No Beach Boys, Beatles or Pink Floyd (at least as we know them), either. In short, Paul was a giant. A legend in the music business. An innovator who's name belongs right up alongside such famous groundbreakers as Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison and Dick Fosbury.

Why do I mention this in a column about NASCAR? Because of Kyle Busch, that's why. (Duh!) Remember that one-of-a-kind custom-painted guitar that the Shrub smashed after he won in Music City last June? That was a Gibson Les Paul. And here, gentle readers, is what eventually became of it. The year 2009 has been an annus horribilis of sorts for Busch, but this might represent its low point.

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