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Crucial time for those on cusp of Chase.


With eight races left before the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set at Richmond, only three drivers are absolute locks to transfer into NASCAR's twelve-driver playoffs - points leader Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and reigning champion Jimmie Johnson.

On the surface, fourth-place Kurt Busch seems safe enough but, at 305 points behind Stewart and 313 ahead of 13th place, a couple of unmitigated disasters could still derail his efforts. With the way Busch has run this year, however, that seems highly unlikely.

If there's real danger, though, it threatens positions seven through twelve, and, if there's real opportunity, it's available to positions 13 through 16 in the standings, to the four drivers currently on the outside looking in - but not outside by much. Here's how we rate those 'on the cusp' - the 'bubble boys':

Matt Kenseth (currently tenth, 100 points ahead of 13th)
Kenseth is anything but spectacular since winning the first two races of the season, but he nevertheless is consistent enough to make the Chase for the sixth straight year. Kenseth and Johnson are the only drivers who have never missed. Odds to make the Chase: 10-9

Ryan Newman (seventh, plus 134 points).
Newman is the polar opposite of Kenseth, having overcome a succession of mishaps to start the season. Six drivers would have to pass 'Rocket Man' to knock him out of the Chase, and odds against that are long. Odds: 6-5.

Kyle Busch (eighth, plus 133 points)
With three wins, Busch should be a lock by now, but his win-at-all-costs mentality produces boom-or-bust results. With excellent equipment and his own top-notch talent, however, Busch should make the post-season. A small measure of big-picture thinking might help him solidify his position. Odds: 7-5

Greg Biffle (ninth, plus 114 points)
Biffle's cars are fast enough. His crew is one of the best in the garage. All Biffle has to do is keep the car on the track. The negative is that he has more DNFs (two) than any other driver in the top twelve. Odds: 7-5.

Juan Pablo Montoya (eleventh, plus 86 points)
With the Chase as his prize, Montoya admits he's points racing, and he's doing it well, having found a way to finish in the top ten in five of his past seven races. With a respectable finish at Chicagoland, where he has run 15th and 18th in his only two starts, Montoya could make headway at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan. Odds: 16-11.

Kasey Kahne (twelfth, plus 65 points)
The win at Sonoma was a surprise - and helped Kahne immeasurably - but, aside from that, his best finish in the past five races is a tenth at New Hampshire. He's in the top twelve right now but will need better results in the next eight races to stay there. Odds: 9-5.

Mark Martin (13th, 65 points behind twelfth)



Related Pictures

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Kyle Busch [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, and a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet SS, races to a third place finish Sunday, August 2, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Suave Men Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on August 1, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on August 1, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, does a burn out after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on August 1, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, takes the chequered flag while winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway on August 1, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, leads during the NASCAR XFINITY Series U.S. Cellular 250 race, at Iowa Speedway on August 1, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 at Pocono Raceway on August 1, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 at Pocono Raceway on August 1, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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