With only one race to go before the Chase starts, the 16-driver field is basically locked in. Sixteenth-place Clint Bowyer has a 92 percent chance of making it. Kasey Kahne has a 4 percent chance of making it.
Most likely the only way we are going to see somebody break into the group is by winning at Richmond. That would knock a winless driver in the final transfer spot out of the Chase – a position Bowyer currently holds. There is a chance that Bowyer could actually pass Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, or Ryan Newman in the points standings – thus protecting Bowyer in the case there is a first-time winner. If it seems a new winner is likely, look for those four to be battling extra hard. That’s why they are all in the 90s, but not at 100 percent. Each has a tiny shot of losing out.
As far as first-time winners go, it’s likely Bowyer himself could be the guy. Eighteen of the last 20 Richmond races were won by drivers currently locked into the Chase. The other two races were won by Bowyer.
Here are the scenarios for drivers to clinch a spot in the Chase, but there is only a 12 percent chance that anything will change.
Think about that – there is only a 12 percent chance that any change to the 16 driver field will happen at Richmond. Instead of focusing on the bubble, it might be better to focus on the drivers who can actually contend for the championship.
Right now, Kevin Harvick is at the top of that list – with a 24 percent title chance. He’s followed by Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – the only other drivers over 10 percent. They are also the four drivers with the highest chance of getting past the first Chase cutoff – each with at least an 87 percent chance. For title purposes, Kyle Busch is right in there at 9 percent. He’s clinched a Chase spot despite missing 11 races. It seems like he could have missed 12 (or even more!) races and still made the Chase.
In some ways, Richmond is going to be the ultimate throwback race. Points racing matters little – and a win will get you in. It should be a fun one Saturday night. Just focus on who is running up front – for the guys back in the pack, we’ll talk about you next year!
Eric Chemi runs data journalism for our sister network CNBC, including a heavy dose of sports analytics. Prior to that, his NASCAR analytics have been part of television broadcasts, and he has consulted for Sprint Cup teams on strategy, statistics, data, and analytics. He graduated with an engineering degree from MIT.