4 drivers try to claw their way up the Chase standings

Survive and advance.

The familiar sports catch phrase used in the postseason now takes on a real meaning in NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup format.

After the first race of the Chase last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, there are several drivers who are in danger of seeing their Chase appearances end.

“We have to stay alive,” said a frustrated Carl Edwards following his 20th place finish at Chicagoland.

With two races left before the first eliminations, Edwards is 12th in the standings and only one point ahead of 13th – the first of four positions to get axed following the Sept. 28 race at Dover, Del.

“We have to go to Loudon (N.H.) and hopefully our flat short track program is better than this. Then we will take what we learned here to Dover,” Edwards said.

“To make this second round we will have to be perfect and have a little bit of luck.”

Edwards’ position is not nearly as dire as Aric Almirola’s. He ran in the top 10 virtually the entire race last weekend only to end up in the garage with a blown engine. Almirola is 16th in the standings and 52 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

“We were running sixth with just over 30 (laps) to go and it just wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular.”

Almirola will need to be. A win guarantees a driver advancement to Round 2 and that appears to be the only way the Richard Petty Motorsports driver will be able to extend his first appearance in the Chase.

With another subpar performance on an intermediate track, Edwards’ Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, also finds himself in a deep hole. He’s 15th and 38 points behind the leader.

Team owner Jack Roush faces the harsh prospects of both of his drivers failing to advance past the first round.

“We got some great, aggressive plans like bringing different stuff to the race track and just racing after it at Loudon and Dover,” Biffle said.

“We don’t know how it will do but we have nothing to lose. But that approach could pan out for us.”

Biffle and his No. 16 team appeared to be making a lot of progress in the weeks leading up to the start of the Chase.

He had five consecutive top-10 finishes beginning with a fifth-place Aug. 3 at Pocono and then ended up 23rd at the Chase cutoff race at Richmond, Va. He was one of three drivers to make the 16-team Chase field on points (Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman were the others).

“We got five great runs and we thought we had this thing whipped. Then to run like we did at Richmond really took the wind out of our sails. We made the Chase but we were like, ‘Gosh, that was tough,’ ” Biffle said.

“We are just going to keep our head down and do what we did the five weeks to get us in the Chase. If we do that, we will definitely make it by the first round.”