Two months into NASCAR 2010 and it's simply impossible to predict who'll be this year's Cup champ.
But how about simply making the Chase? Well, that's a different story.
History tells us that 75 percent of the top 12 in points six races into the season have gone on to make the playoffs. A quick look at this year's group shows a similar lock on the top nine spots:
So for slumping drivers, the message is clear: there's no margin for error. Here are six wheelmen whose seasons need to turn around ... and fast:
But for NASCAR's Charlie Brown, the bad luck charm that's followed his career just won't let go. Three straight wrecks after a solid start have dropped him to 17th in points, leaving Phoenix a crucial weekend to stop the bleeding. With roulette-wheel tracks like Talladega and Richmond up ahead, the No. 5 car needs to bank wins -- and momentum -- any chance it can get.
"It's not hard to keep these guys motivated," says crew chief
They'll also have to battle against history: Hendrick has never sent more than three cars into the Chase since the format began in 2004. Right now, Martin's fourth on the totem pole, even behind roller-coaster
The goal for Hamlin now is not to miss any seat time, but that's going to be nearly impossible. Tomorrow he'll attempt to qualify just nine days after a major operation that keeps most people from driving for a month. Via Twitter, Hamlin has lowered expectations a bit:
"Regardless of what you read, the plan is to start on Saturday night," he said. "Beyond that, I just don't know."
Every other finish for the No. 39 this season has been 16th or worse, including two uncharacteristic DNFs. But despite a dip to 22nd in points, this veteran has the confidence of having made a similar comeback in '09. Then he was 18th in points, 79 points out of the Chase six races into last season.
"I think the key for us is to maintain that positive feeling we had after Martinsville," Newman said this week. "Everyone in the shop is pumped up about our finish and the fact we had a good car. These next few races are key; we need to take what we did and spin it into some more solid finishes."
The problem for Busch is two-fold: distractions and Dave. Dabbling in other series pads the stat sheet, but leaves him working overtime elsewhere, especially in Trucks, where he's running two teams as an owner/driver. But new crew chief
"Everybody has been asking me why I haven't been running good," said the frustrated driver last week. "Is it my head? Is it because I'm running a truck team? Is it this, is it that? ... I can only go as fast as my car will let me go."
That's a little dig at the man turning the wrenches. So for Busch to get back on track, team chemistry needs to turn at the No. 18 in a hurry.
But this year, the old school, aggressive driver needs to make a comeback to have any chance. Already, the Colombian's posted an engine failure, two wrecks and a blown tire that have him 25th in the point standings, 171 points behind
"I have to feel like we're going in the right direction," he said last month at Las Vegas. "This is my seventh year and I've stuck it out with them since day one and done everything I could. In the middle of this year or towards the end of this year, when I decide to make my decision of what I'm gonna do, if I don't feel like we're gonna be able to run with the Hendrick cars for the next three or four years, then I've got to make a change."
Unfortunately for RPM, such criteria won't be met even if Kahne makes a comeback. And departing free agents usually don't keep the chemistry intact on their team long enough to make the Chase.