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BMS brings clarity to Chase picture

If you think Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway did nothing to clarify, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picture, take another look.

Yes, the Sharpie 500 did tighten the spread between positions seven through 14 in the Cup standings. And, yes, the race did put two drivers who seemed relatively comfortable entering the event -Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne - back in limbo.

In reality, though, the race at Bristol narrowed the field. Of the drivers outside the top twelve, only Kyle Busch (Saturday's winner) and Brian Vickers (a miraculous 12th at Bristol) have a chance to replace a driver in one of the Chase-eligible positions. Of the current top twelve, Matt Kenseth (12th) and Kasey Kahne (11th) are most vulnerable. There are two more races before the field is set.

Though he fell from 13th to 14th in the standings, Vickers stayed in the picture by surviving, thanks to two free passes back to the lead lap, astute strategy from crew chief Ryan Pemberton and the ability to stay out of trouble on a track that historically has been a problem for Vickers.

“It wasn't one of our best finishes, but it definitely could have been worse,” Vickers said. “Bristol has never been one of my better tracks in a Cup car for whatever reason. Ryan made some great calls for track position, and we were able to get the lucky dog twice.

“It sucks losing a spot in the points, but don't count us out - this team doesn't give up. We are still very much in this.”

No argument there. Vickers, who trails Kenseth by 39 points, should have speed for the September 6 race at Atlanta, where he finished fifth in March. The test for Vickers will come September 12 at Richmond, where he claimed one of his series-best six poles in May before dropping to 15th at the finish. That broke a string of eight straight results of 24th or worse at the 0.75-mile short track.

For Busch, the key is Atlanta, where his finishes have been all over the map. He won the spring race there in 2008 and finished fifth last fall, before Atlanta was replaced in the Chase by California for the 2009 season. Before that, he ran 20th or worse in three straight races and finished 18th at the 1.5-mile track in the most recent race there, in March.

Complicating the issue will be Busch's quest for a Nationwide Series title. With Atlanta being a two-day show, Busch won't have much time to discuss strategy with Cup crew chief Steve Addington, given the time demands of practice in both series and a Nationwide race the night before.

“Atlanta, we have a little bit of work to do,” Busch said. “We weren't as good as we needed to be there this spring. There's not going to be any time for me to sit with Steve at all next week - or two weeks - in Atlanta. It's all a one-day show for Nationwide. I'm going to be running back and forth all over the place.




Related Pictures

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Brian Vickers [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Kyle Busch celebrates victory in the Food City 500 at Bristol   [pic credit: Getty/NASCAR]
Kyle Busch - Joe Gibbs Racing   [pic credit: NASCAR/Getty]
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates with champagne and crew chief Tony Gibson in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, wins, causing his crew to celebrate Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory with a burn-out Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Energizer Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A detail view of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series logo as rain falls prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
People walk on pit road as rain falls prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, lead the field to start during the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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