Who will make the Chase?

Published 7:32 pm Friday, July 31, 2009

Six races remain before NASCAR’s 2009 Chase for the Championship. And there are some surprises in who could be in or out of the Chase.

The sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is currently sitting in 22nd position in the points standings and has been out of chase contention since about the fifth race of the year. In other words, after the green flag dropped at Daytona to begin the season, he was out of the Chase.

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will all miss the chance to compete for the championship. Unadilla’s David Ragan, after a solid sophomore season in which he barely missed making the top 12, has flopped and is foundering in 30th position.

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To me, only two drivers currently outside the top 12 have a legitimate chance of taking a spot in the chase. David Reutimann and Kyle Busch, in 13th and 14th positions respectively, are 68 and 82 points behind Matt Kenseth in the 12th position.

But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the current top 12 remain the same after the race in Richmond, the final race to set the chase field. Reutimann has been hanging around the top 12 all season, but I think he might come up short.

Kyle Busch is a better as the hunted rather than the hunter, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he went into panic mode and missed the chase field. That would be a huge upset if in fact he fails to become eligible to compete for the championship.

Roush Fenway Racing finally made official that Jamie McMurray would be the odd man out as the organization trims down to four teams next season. In making the announcement that Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, David Ragan and Matt Kenseth would comprise Roush’s drivers next season, it was also announced that McMurray’s current sponsor, Crown Royal, would move to Kenseth’s car next season. DeWalt Tools had earlier announced that they would not be back as Kenseth’s backer in 2010.

Now the question is where does McMurray end up. The most obvious destination would seem to be Yates Racing, a satellite team of Roush’s, using Roush equipment. But I don’t think that move is so cut and dried.

That team would move to Yates without a sponsor and, in today’s economy, that’s a big deal. Who would be willing to pony up the funds to sponsor McMurray with a second-tier Yates operation? I would venture to say the line would be short.

McMurray’s former boss, Chip Ganassi, has an opening in the No. 1 Earnhardt-Ganassi ride with supposed sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops. That could be an option for McMurray. But I am not convinced that Bass Pro will remain with EGR next season and again, sponsorship will play a huge part in where McMurray ends up.

From a boring race at an exciting track in Indianapolis last week to a boring race at a boring track in Pocono this week. Qualifying was rained out again, so the field will be set by points, with Tony Stewart on the pole and Jimmie Johnson on the outside. Look for Mark Martin to extend his series-leading four wins this week to five at Pocono.