Chase for the Cup: Endgame

The time to determine the 2006 Chase for the Nextel Cup class is in its final countdown. The excitement isn't as palpable as it was the inaugural year or last season but there are still possibilities looming. There were certainly more scenarios in...

The time to determine the 2006 Chase for the Nextel Cup class is in its final countdown. The excitement isn't as palpable as it was the inaugural year or last season but there are still possibilities looming. There were certainly more scenarios in the Chase's first two years and more drivers who were waiting in the wings anxious to find out whether or not they would make the cut.

This year the focus is on just one driver: Kasey Kahne and the only question being asked is who will choke? Kahne? Or one of the other racers in the top ten?

Currently, only 147 points separate positions three through eleven with just 32 points between Kahne (11th), Jeff Burton (10th) and Mark Martin (ninth); the maximum amount of points a driver can gain in one race is 156.

All of the drivers sitting in positions three through ten are all vulnerable to being booted to make way for Kahne. He is the only driver outside of the top ten still mathematically eligible for a spot in the Chase field.

The following drivers will clinch a spot in the Chase if they finish the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway in the following spots (or higher) regardless of where the other competitors finish.

Kevin Harvick: 40th
Jeff Gordon: 25th
Kyle Busch: 22nd
Denny Hamlin: 16th
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: 16th
Tony Stewart: Seventh
Mark Martin: Fourth
Jeff Burton: Fourth

Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have already locked the first two spots in the field.

Under the current NASCAR rules regarding the Chase, eleven drivers could make the final field if Kahne wins the race, leads the most laps and Kenseth and second Johnson both finish 21st or worse.

It's enough to make your head spin and with 725,760 different mathematical possibilities there is still every reason for the No. 9 Evernham Dodge team to hope for the best. Although a 20th place time trial result for Kahne was not what the team had hoped for with so much riding on this race.

Who is the easiest prey for Kahne?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starts 33rd. Despite his stellar record of three wins and nine top-10's he puts the No. 8 DEI Chevrolet team in a dubious spot starting so far back in the field at a short track race where anything can happen.

Also on the hot seat is reigning Cup series champion Tony Stewart. He takes the green flag from the 40th position. Stewart wrecked his primary car in practice on Friday and will be driving a backup car.

While team orders is always one of those questions in the NASCAR garage that gets you an eyeroll and a chuckle; one has to wonder and watch to see what happens with the multi-car teams who have drivers in the Chase.

Richard Childress Racing has Harvick and Burton in the field with teammate Clint Bowyer as their only weapon of defense. Hendrick Motorsports has Busch, Gordon and Johnson with just Brian Vickers to get their backs. But Vickers is leaving Hendrick at the end of this season so does he really care to lend a helping hand?

Roush Racing may be in the best position. Kenseth is already in and Martin has Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards to keep an eye out for any time bombs that may cross the nose of the No. 6 Ford.

With Hamlin starting on the pole and teammate Stewart way back in 40th they won't be much help to each other. Stewart may get a little love from teammate JJ Yeley starting 32nd.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has the least amount of assistance on track tonight. With just one teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. (who starts seventh) that leaves Earnhardt at the rear of the field all by his lonesome.

RIR is always a bump-and-bang fest but with so much on the line for 11 drivers tonight it should add that little pinch of spice to make the hearts of race fans beat just a tick faster.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports