NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is a 10-race, season-ending, championship-deciding form of playoff for NASCAR’s elite series.
But the drama of the Chase actually begins several weeks in advance of the start of the “playoffs,” as drivers jockey to be among the elite 16 who will begin the elimination-style run to the championship.
As the Cup drivers get back to work this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after a week off, there are just four races until the Chase begins.
There are 11 drivers assured of Chase berths so far due to race wins in the 26-race regular season, and Pocono winner Chris Buescher can join that elite group by gaining the three points he needs to be in the top 30 after the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10.
That leaves four Chase berths, which will go either to a previously winless driver who wins one of the next four races, or to the drivers highest in the standings but without a win.
Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray will make the Chase if they can maintain their current points positions and no new winners emerge.
But, given the way this season has gone — with 12 different winners so far — that’s not likely.
Kasey Kahne, now 17th in the standings and not in position to claim a Chase berth at present, has previously won races at three of the four remaining tracks hosting regular season races — Bristol, Michigan and Richmond.
If Dale Earnhardt Jr., currently out with concussion-like symptoms, were to return and get a waiver from NASCAR to compete for a Chase berth, he has proven that he can win at Michigan and Richmond.
And Greg Biffle, a seven-time Chase participant, has won in the past at Michigan and Darlington.
Then there are others, like Kyle Larson, who has never won a Cup race but has been strong this season, with four top-5 and three other top-10 finishes.