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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]
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finished in 5th position and Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS finished in 12th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Newman, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Kahne, who was also in the Chase, did not advance. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finished in 26th position and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet SS finished in 13th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Gordon, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished in 9th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Harvick, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Halloween Toyota, are involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Crew members work on the Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Halloween Toyota, in the garage area during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, races Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch. August 20 2014. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth at Watkins Glen. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualified for 39th position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS qualified for eleventh position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Newman, who is in the Chase, is 4th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet SS qualified for eighth position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Khane, who is in the Chase, is 8th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS qualified for second position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Johnson, who is in the Chase, is 11th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, poses after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 18, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Mason Mingus, driver of the #15 811 Call Before You Dig Chevrolet, Korbin Forrister, driver of the #07 McNair McLemore Midlebrooks & Co LLC Chevrolet, Ron Hornaday Jr., driver of the #9 Armour Vienna Sausage/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, and Ryan Sieg, driver of the #39 Pull-A-Part Used Auto Parta Chevrolet, are involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Camping World Series Fred`s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway on October 18, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Halloween Toyota, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 17, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 Pink Lemonade 5Hr Energy benefiting LBBC Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 17, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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