Race to Chase update: Multiple drivers punch tickets in Atlanta

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As expected, last night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (the 25th of 26 regular season races in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) saw multiple drivers clinch berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch burst into NASCAR’s postseason with a flourish, bagging his fourth win of the year to mark his return to the Chase after failing to make it in last year. Additional Top-10 “automatic” spots were secured last night by Kevin Harvick (who finished 9th), Matt Kenseth (who finished 12th), and Carl Edwards (who finished 18th).

Also, despite finishing 36th after an early incident, Kasey Kahne clinched at least one of the two Wild Card spots on the strength of his two regular season wins at Bristol in the spring and at Pocono last month.

Throw in the two other “automatic” drivers – points leader Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer – and that means seven of the 12 Chase spots have been spoken for.

In regards to a Top-10 spot in the Chase, four drivers will head into the final regular season race at Richmond International Raceway in control of their destiny:

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sits seventh in the standings at 37 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing 32nd or better at RIR (33rd with at least one lap led, 34th with most laps led).
  • Joey Logano, who sits eighth in the standings at 16 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing 11th or better (12th with at least one lap led, 13th with most laps led).
  • Greg Biffle, currently ninth in the standings at 14 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing ninth or better (10th with at least one lap led, 11th with most laps led).
  • Kurt Busch, currently 10th in the standings at six points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by winning the race (second with at least one lap led, third with most laps led).

Jeff Gordon (11th in the standings), Martin Truex Jr. (13th), and Ryan Newman (14th) can all clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a win at Richmond. All three of these drivers had great results at Atlanta, with Truex finishing third, Newman fifth, and Gordon sixth.

But things are much trickier for Brad Keselowski after his engine failure in the latter stages of last night’s event. He sits 28 points out of the Top 10 and has no wins. Thus, he must be victorious at Richmond to have any hope of a Wild Card spot.

Here’s how the table looks:

1. Jimmie Johnson – 837 points, four wins
2. Clint Bowyer – 809 points, no wins
3. Kevin Harvick – 795 points, two wins
4. Carl Edwards – 795 points, one win
5. Kyle Busch – 786 points, four wins
6. Matt Kenseth – 768 points, five wins
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 750 points, no wins
8. Joey Logano – 729 points, one win
9. Greg Biffle – 727 points, one win
10. Kurt Busch – 719 points, no wins
11. Jeff Gordon – six points behind Ku. Busch, no wins
12. Kasey Kahne – WC #1, -10 points, two wins
13. Martin Truex Jr. – WC #2, -15 points, one win
14. Ryan Newman, -20 points, one win
15. Brad Keselowski, -28 points, no wins
16. Jamie McMurray, -39 points, no wins
17. Paul Menard, -61 points, no wins

LOCKED IN: Johnson, Bowyer, Harvick, Edwards, Ky. Busch, Kenseth, Kahne.
VIRTUAL LOCK: Earnhardt Jr.
ALMOST LOCKS: Logano, Biffle.
IN RANGE: Ku. Busch, Gordon, Truex Jr., Newman.
OUT OF RANGE: Keselowski.
VIRTUALLY ELIMINATED: McMurray, Menard.