Up and Down: Tight points race leads to shuffling of top 10 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2006) -- The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup approaches. Two races remain. Only two things are certain -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) ...
Up and Down: Tight points race leads to shuffling of top 10
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2006) -- The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup approaches.
Two races remain.
Only two things are certain -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) will be among the 10 drivers vying for the championship.
From that point, uncertainty abounds. Here is why:
* There are 13 drivers mathematically eligible for the 10 Chase positions.
* Only 48 points separate positions four through 10. Only 138 points separate positions four through 11.
* The drivers in positions four through 10 can all fall out of the top 10 after California.
* Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), currently in 11th place, can move as high as fourth in the standings after California.
A shakeup of the standings after Sunday's race is not just possible, it is probable. Seven of the top-10 drivers changed point positions after Bristol. Six of those drivers changed point positions after Watkins Glen.
For two consecutive weeks, the fourth-place driver in the standings has dropped at least five positions. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet), fourth after Watkins Glen, finished 42nd at Michigan and fell to ninth in the standings. Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) was fourth after Michigan, but a 28th-place finish at Bristol dropped him to 10th.
The points race is so tight, the sports statistics experts at STATS LLC have calculated 574,560 different possibilities for the order of the top 11 drivers following Sunday's race.
As the Chase approaches, every position in the point standings is crucial. At the start of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the top 10 drivers' points are reset to five point increments. That means that each position gained brings an additional five points. Considering Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) won the 2004 championship by eight points, and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) won last year's title by a 35-point margin, teams must now think about positioning themselves in the Chase rather than just making the field.