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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]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to win Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory with his daughter, Ella Sofia Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory win Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, lead the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for sixth position Friday, September 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon is in the Chase. Sunday will determine who advances to the next phase of the Chase, the Contender 12.  (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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