Looking ahead: Who could be headed to Chase and who could be disappointed

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With NASCAR halfway to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the pressure builds on drivers who have yet to win and all but secure a chance to race for the title.

There have been nine different winners this season (compared to 10 a year ago), leaving seven spots for the Chase to be determined by points – at this time.

Last year, there were 13 winners when the Chase began, leaving three spots open for those via points. It likely will be about the same this year.

So, as the series heads to Pocono Raceway to begin a stretch of 13 races in 15 weeks, here’s a look at who is in contention for those final Chase spots and the chances they have of making it.

 

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

Chase appearances: 2 (best finish 11th in 2007 & 2012)

Points position: 2nd (ranks first among winless drivers)

Notable performances: Has led the most laps in last three points races but did not win any of those.

Why he’ll make Chase: Clearly has one of the fastest cars and even if he doesn’t win, he should make it via points.

Why he won’t make Chase: He and team decide to take four-week summer vacation and miss a few races. Would have to be that drastic.

 

JAMIE McMURRAY

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 7th (ranks second among winless drivers)

Notable performances: Has an average finish of 9.7 at the seven tracks the series has run that will host a Chase race.

Why he’ll make Chase: It’s amazing that the former Daytona 500, Sprint All-Star and Brickyard 400 winner has not made the Chase in his career. Everything finally goes his way.

Why he won’t make Chase: Can’t afford a number of poor finishes. If only three drivers make the Chase on points as happened last year, he could be teetering on the edge if he doesn’t win a race.

 

KASEY KAHNE

Chase appearances: 5 (best finish 4th in 2012)

Points position: 8th (ranks third among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 4th at Phoenix and Dover.

Why he’ll make Chase: Should score a win to secure a spot. Could come this weekend at Pocono where he won in 2013 and has two top-two finishes in last five starts there.

Why he won’t make Chase: He didn’t win until Atlanta last year – two races before the Chase cutoff. That race moved, so he won’t have that track to bail him out if he doesn’t have a win that late in the season.

 

JEFF GORDON

Chase appearances: 10 (best finish 2nd in 2007)

Points position: 9th (ranks fourth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Bristol. Led 87 laps in Daytona 500 but was collected in last-lap wreck.

Why he’ll make Chase: There could be no worse disappointment than not to make the Chase in his final full season. If things get hairy, the full resources of Hendrick Motorsports will be focused on getting him in the Chase, much like how Kasey Kahne won late to make last year’s Chase.

Why he won’t make Chase: If he has more speeding penalties on pit road at the wrong time. One such penalty likely cost him a shot to win at Martinsville.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA

Chase appearances: 1 (best finish 16th in 2014)

Points position: 10th (ranks fifth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 5th at Dover

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been steady all season with no finish worse than 26th and only two finishes of 20th or worse. He’s maximizing what the car and team are providing.

Why he won’t make Chase: He’s about two poor finishes from falling too far out of the third spot among winless drivers – the likely cutoff for winless drivers to make the Chase – if he doesn’t score a victory.

 

PAUL MENARD

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 12th (ranks sixth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Talladega and 4th at Auto Club Speedway

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been steady for much of the season with only one finish worse than 25th. He needs to be even stronger. Has led only one lap this season, so unless something changes, winning will be difficult to achieve.

Why he won’t make Chase: If one can’t lead laps, they can’t win. If he has a couple of bad performances, he likely won’t be able to overcome that to make it via points.

 

RYAN NEWMAN

Chase appearances: 6 (best finish 2nd in 2014)

Points position: 13th (ranks seventh among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Las Vegas and Phoenix

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s doing the same thing as he did last year with consistency. He has eight top-10 finishes this season compared to four at this point a year ago. He’s used to the pressure – just recall his last-lap move on Kyle Larson at Phoenix to make the Chase finale last year.

Why he won’t make Chase: Consistency only gets one so far. It may not be enough this time.

 

CLINT BOWYER

Chase appearances: 5 (best finish 2nd in 2012)

Points position: 17th (ranks eighth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 7th in Daytona 500

Why he’ll make Chase: Likely will have to win to do so.

Why he won’t make Chase: Team hasn’t shown it’s strong enough to challenge for a victory. Has led just two laps this season and has eight finishes of 20th or worse. That won’t cut it if he can’t score a win.

 

DANICA PATRICK

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 18th (ranks ninth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 7th at Martinsville

Why she’ll make Chase: Will need to win a race somewhere.

Why she won’t make Chase: Hasn’t been in position to win a race. That likely will continue, keeping her out of the Chase.

 

GREG BIFFLE

Chase appearances: 7 (best finish 2nd in 2005)

Points position: 19th (ranks 10th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 2nd in Coca-Cola 600

Why he’ll make Chase: Nearly stole a win at Charlotte on fuel mileage. If he can do it somewhere else, he’ll be in.

Why he won’t make Chase: While his car showed it was better in the Coca-Cola 600, there’s still a long way to go for Roush Fenway Racing to compete for wins. Until it does so, RFR won’t have a driver in the Chase.

 

KYLE LARSON

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 20th (ranks 11th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Dover

Why he’ll make Chase: Team picks up performance and matches the potential of this driver in the final 13 races before the Chase field is set.

Why he won’t make Chase: This team has been off at times this season with six finishes of 25th or worse. If that continues, he won’t make the Chase.

 

TONY STEWART

Chase appearances: 8 (won title in Chase format in 2005 & ’11)

Points position: 28th (ranks 19th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 6th at Bristol

Why he’ll make Chase: Must win. Best bet is Daytona, Bristol or maybe the road courses.

Why he won’t make Chase: Although scoring better finishes lately compared to start of the year, this team has not shown the speed to compete for a win that it must have to make the Chase.

 

KYLE BUSCH

Chase appearances: 7 (best finish 4th in 2013)

Points position: 40th (ranks 31st among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 11th in Coca-Cola 600

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been fast in his first two races back and put himself in position to have strong finishes until some late issues.

Why he won’t make Chase: Can’t overcome deficit of missing 11 races.