NASCAR’s Sprint Cup season is nearing its halfway mark and berths for the Chase appear to be filling up fast.
Through 16 races, there have been 11 different winners – each of them virtually assured a berth in the 16-driver postseason. But after four drivers combined to win nine of the season’s first 11 races, parity seems to be carrying the day now, with six others winning for the first time over the past six races. Each time a different driver wins, it narrows the remaining field for the Chase, and time is starting to run out.
After Tony Stewart’s victory at Sonoma (he still must race his way into the top 30 in points to be Chase-eligible), five Chase berths remain up for grabs in the 10 races remaining in the regular season – beginning with Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Win and you’re in (as long as you finish in the top 30). Or, if there aren’t 16 winners, race your way in on points. The risk of that strategy, of course, is the field could be filled with 16 winners. And at the rate things have been going recently, that’s a possibility.
Here’s a look at eight drivers who haven’t won yet and are on the Chase “bubble.”
In – for now
Assuming Stewart makes it, these five drivers fill out the top 16 on points. They would all be in the Chase if the regular season ended right now.
Chase Elliott (sixth): The rookie is getting closer to winning, finishing second at Michigan two weeks ago. He’s got six top-five finishes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th): He’s the only driver who won at least one race in 2015 but has yet to win this season.
Ryan Newman (13th): He has been his usual consistent, unspectacular self this season. Has finished every race led exactly one lap.
Austin Dillon (14th): Still hunting for that first career victory, which would land him in the Chase.
Jamie McMurray (15th): He made the Chase on points last season and is in position to do so again.
3 to watch
Kasey Kahne (16th): Technically in, but his spot is in peril when and if Stewart makes the top 30. If he slips into the Chase it would erase what’s been a difficult season otherwise.
Ryan Blaney (17th): He would love to join fellow rookie Elliott in the Chase. But he’s got work to do.
Kyle Larson (20th): Getting in on points will be a challenge. He was also docked 15 points for an inspection infraction at Michigan. But he’s got three top-fives, including a third at Michigan.