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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Carl Edwards' shot at Chase likely went up in smoke at Atlanta; Look for Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch to clinch Wild Cards at Richmond

The Chase is almost here. 10 guys are officially locked in. Technically, Kasey Kahne’s not it, but to fall out Tony Stewart would have to drop out of top 10, Jeff Gordon would have to leapfrog three spots to 10th, and Kahne would have to fall behind Kyle Busch in points. Just due to start and parks alone, this is pretty much impossible. Or Kyle could make it to 10th place, Tony falls to 11th, Kahne falls to 13th and Gordon wins and moves up to 12th. ... Again, pretty much damn near impossible.

So essentially one spot remains, that being the second Wild Card position … Your serious contenders are:

1. Jeff Gordon. The way he’s been running lately, he’s looking like the guy to beat for this spot. He almost won Atlanta Sunday and got his second win. He could easily win at Richmond and make his trip to the Chase that way. If not, a solid run that puts him a dozen spots or so ahead of Kyle Busch gets him in. Don’t be surprised if he does it. Gordon is on a mission, and after Atlanta said he probably should have knocked Hamlin out of the way to win. Next win, if in that same situation, you can bet he will.

2. Kyle Busch – currently holds the 2nd Wild Card; if he just runs in the top 10, he’s pretty much guaranteed to get in. But then again, he does have bad luck on occasion (though it’s usually in the Chase when that happens). Maybe that bad luck comes early and ruins his shot at competing for a title. Not saying it’s going to happen, but when the spot is yours to lose, that’s often when mistakes are made. Being the guy chasing for the spot is often a better position to be in. We’ll see next Saturday if Kyle can hold on.

3. Carl Edwards – what a terrible season he’s had. He’s now a longshot. Even if he wins the race, it’s his first win and he’ll have to pass Gordon and Busch in the points. Not likely. Sorry Carl, I’m going to say that you’re not in the Chase, barring a miracle. It’s another case of the hangover from almost winning the title last year. Too much expectation, nothing delivered. Not sure why this keeps happening, but it just does.

Sorry Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, you’re all too far back to really be a factor here unless you win next week (something I don't see happening for any of these teams).

Who do I think will get in? While it would be a great story for Jeff Gordon to win and race his way into the Chase at Richmond – like our old buddy Jeremy Mayfield did back in the days when the Chase first started – I don’t see it happening. And Kyle is very, very good there. So look for Kahne and Kyle Busch to lock up their Wild Cards positions and get in the Chase.

I’m not sure if either one of them will be a big factor in the title hunt – that’s possible of course, but their regular seasons were pretty erratic so far.

But they’ll get in, and as we saw last year with Tony’s great run to the title and five wins in 10 races, anything can happen in the Chase. So really, any of the 12 who make can have legitimate shots at the title. … Realistically, I expect a tight battle between Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and possibly Kenseth or Biffle. But what do I know? Nobody picked Tony to win the Chase last year, and it’s entirely possible that Clint Bowyer will battle Martin Truex Jr. for the championship.

That’s why I love this sport, and that’s why I love the Chase. That's part of why I watch every week, it's not as predictable as some other sports.

It’s going to be tons of fun, both next week at Richmond and the ten weeks following.

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