A Closer Look at The Chase Bubble

With only four races remaining until the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs begin at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 18, there are a plethora of drivers fighting for a spot in the postseason.

With Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. already clinching Chase spots with wins, that leaves only five spots vacant for drivers without wins.

However, Chris Buescher also has a win this season. He is currently outside of the top 30 in points (three points behind David Ragan for 30th). Assuming he gets inside the top 30, which will happen barring an unforeseen disaster, he will make the Chase. That leaves four spots up for grabs to qualify for the Chase and an opportunity to win the 2016 championship.

The wild race for the last five spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup (as of Aug. 16).

Here’s how the points standings look heading to Bristol Motor Speedway this upcoming weekend: Ryan Newman (12th) is 51 points ahead of the potential cutoff, Chase Elliott (13th) is 49 points ahead, Austin Dillon (14th) is 47 points ahead, Jamie McMurray (15th) is 39 points ahead and Kyle Larson (16th) is a mere nine points ahead of the potential cutoff.

Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Blaney sit just below the cut line, with other drivers more than 30 points behind.

I think Newman and Elliott are pretty much locks to get in. Newman finished second in the championship in 2014 to Harvick by being scarily consistent. He has a couple wins at tracks coming up (Bristol, Michigan, Darlington and Richmond) and has proven he can score top 10’s when he needs to.

As for Elliott, he has been arguably the most consistent driver at Hendrick Motorsports this season. With 11 top 10’s this season and over 100 laps led, this rookie isn’t showing his stripes yet, as he seems to be showing some of his Hall of Fame father in himself. The No. 24 team is also experienced in these types of situations, so I say he’s in.

Dillon has enough of a cushion over the cutline that I think he also qualifies for the playoffs. He was one of the better drivers early in the season, and if he reverts back to that form in the famed No. 3 car, he may even be a final four threat.

Now is where it gets interesting: between the two Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. The latter of the two has been the better driver all season long. Bad luck has bitten the No. 42, though, at inopportune times. The most notable mishap was also the most recent at Watkins Glen, losing over 20 points in one corner.

However, I think Larson will actually win a race leading up to the Chase and qualify for the playoffs. Bristol and Darlington are tracks that suit his driving style almost perfectly, so look for him to compete for the win there. He can’t play it safe. With a single digit cushion, he can’t afford to. Larson has continuously been looked at as the next driver to break through to stardom. I think this is the first stepping stone for the California native in the No. 42.

The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol is this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA.