As far as the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it all comes down to Richmond this weekend.
Fourteen of the 16 drivers who will compose the Chase field have already been determined. The latest entry is Kasey Kahne, who won his first race of the season at Atlanta and moved into the eighth seed in the “playoff” grid.
Matt Kenseth, who is winless to date, finished second at Atlanta and thus accumulated enough points throughout the season to guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase.
He stands third in points and takes the 14th seed in the grid.
“That was the goal, to have all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the Chase and we were able to accomplish that,” Kenseth said. “The ultimate goal is for one of us to be able to win the championship.
“I’m not a huge believer in momentum, but yet I feel like everyone is really clicking together and working well together and the pit stops are good.
“I feel like we’re doing everything right now, we just need a little more speed to be able to start getting those wins.”
Now that he’s in the Chase, Kenseth is confident he can win. He feels he can capitalize on the consistency he’s displayed all season. He has 16 finishes among the top 10 in 25 races.
“I think our team has a lot of confidence, knock on wood,” Kenseth said. “We haven’t had any kind of mechanical failures. I feel like the team is really ready, we just need a little more speed.
“I feel like we’re doing everything we can, we just need a little bit more to get over that hump and be standing over there in victory lane.”
The Chase scenarios at Richmond are plentiful and somewhat complicated. Kenseth gets in no matter if there is a repeat winner or a new winner – which could be him.
And any current winless driver who wins at Richmond, and is in the top 30 in points, clinches a spot in the Chase. Yeah, that includes Kenseth – and several others.
Is it clear now that Kenseth is in?
Heading into Richmond, the two winless drivers ranked behind Kenseth in the gird are Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle. They are 15th and 16th, respectively, in the grid and ninth and 10th in the point standings.
Newman seems to be on firm ground as he seeks to be the only Richard Childress Racing driver to make the Chase.
If there is a repeat winner or Kenseth is victorious, all Newman has to do is finish 41st or better.
If there is a new winner, and it’s not Kenseth, Newman is in if he finishes 18th or better.
Things aren’t certain for Newman but the odds are in his favor.
Biffle, who has had a disappointing season with Roush Fenway Racing, needs to finish 22nd or better if he doesn’t win – or if there is a repeat winner.
If there is a new winner and it’s not Kenseth or Newman, Biffle must out-point Newman by 19 points – not an easy task – and stay ahead of Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, who lurk just outside the grid.
Biffle is not happy with his season, in which he’s earned just three top-five finishes and 10 among the top 10.
“Quite honestly, the worst we ran, the harder we worked, the more we tested, the more meetings we had – the worse we became,” Biffle said. “We were pushing down a wrong road on aerodynamics, theory, balance and everything else.
“We have righted the ship. We saw what we were doing wrong. We don’t know everything yet but we know about plenty we have done wrong.
“We are fortunate to be in the Chase right now. But we can’t celebrate right now.”
Bowyer was part of the Chase until an unfortunate race at Atlanta, where he finished 38th, put him on the outside looking in by one position.
He’s under the gun at Richmond. So are a few others.
But then, someone could just come right out of the mist and surprise us all this weekend.
It’s happened before.