Four Chase spots up for grabs; Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick move up
|Sonoma Power Rankings|
|Ten races remain until the real Sprint Cup season begins. Ten races until the 12-driver Chase for the Championship field -- comprised of the top-10 drivers in points and two wild-cards with the most wins in positions 11-through 20 -- is set after the regular season concludes at Richmond on Sept. 10.|
Much of the field appears to already be set. The top six drivers -- Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Kurt and Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth -- seem secure considering either their levels of consistency or ability to balance inconsistency with performance spikes. All have won a race, with Harvick victorious three times and Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth two-time winners.
The final four spots have been more fluid and would figure to remain nebulous, except for the fact that ninth-place Jeff Gordon appears to be solidifying his footing with two wins and a series of results strong both in performance and finishing position. His recovery from running as low as 28th on Sunday at Sonoma to finish second has been indicative of renaissance this season. None of the other drivers currently groping the final conventional playoff berths -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th), Clint Bowyer (8th), Ryan Newman (10th) have won and all but Gordon and Bowyer are struggling recently.
Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are currently in an interesting situation, while Regan Smith might be more in a predicament. Though none are currently in the top-10 in driver points, all three have won races this season, which makes them wild-card viable. But only Hamlin (11th) is currently in the 11th-through-20th position and eligible for a wild-card. Keselowski is currently in 22nd position, 12 points out of 20th place. Smith is 28th, a sizeable 59 points from 20th-place David Ragan. With no other winners currently eligible to take the second wild card, 12th-place Tony Stewart holds tenuously onto the other transfer spot.
Among the interesting wild cards within the scores of drivers who could wrest away the wild card in Juan Pablo Montoya, currently in 16th position. Montoya has won previously at Watkins Glen, site of the Aug. 14 event, and led 202 of the last 320 Brickyard 400 laps run. That race is scheduled for July 31.