There’s only four races in the regular season of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, before the deck gets reshuffled for the playoffs and only twelve drivers are eligible for the sport’s 2013 championship. As the circuit readies itself for Sunday afternoon’s Pure Michigan 400 (1 PM ET, ESPN), seven drivers continue to hold steady as the leaders.
The big seven are Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. All seven have at least a 25-point cushion (in some cases, much more) to qualify for the postseason. It’s not unthinkable that someone like Earnhardt, who has yet to win a race, could slump in these last four weeks, but all of these drivers have cushion to allow for a bad race or two and still make it to the Chase For The Cup.
It’s the 8 thru 10 spots, along with the two wild-card qualifiers (where wins is more important than point, as this layman’s explanation of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoff rules breaks down) that the fluidity and excitement have been.
Greg Biffle, Martin Truex and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski are currently holding those final three spots, but this changes with each week. Keselowski has gone from in trouble to in the field to back in trouble in the blink of an eye all year long. He’s also yet to win a race and if he slips out of the Top 10, while not getting a win that will ultimately cost him a chance to defend his championship.
Tony Stewart’s broken leg shook up the wild-card race, as Stewart was in position to grab one of those two spots. Right now, the berths are held by Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. It’s going to be almost impossible for Kahne, with two wins, not to make the field, but he’d certainly prefer the advantage that comes with automatic qualification in the top ten.
Kurt Busch is the driver in no-man’s land. He’s in 11th place, but without a win, he’s going to miss out to Kahne or Newman. If Busch got an outright win, he would all but secure his chance at the Cup, but with only four more chances, it might be more realistic to think about just making the Top 10 through consistent high-point races for the next month.
Michigan International Speedway is the venue for Sunday, and the layout should provide a lot of wide-open racing, with a premium on fuel management. There are very few cautions given, consequently stretching the race out, and the issue of fuel can be decisive down the stretch.
Jimmie Johnson is the favorite, at 5-1, with Kahne checking in at 7-1. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are both 8-1 shots to win. Greg Biffle won in Michigan this past June, and another win would all but secure his postseason qualification. Biffle goes off at 10-1.