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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]
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with his wife DeLana and son Keelan in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, poses with his team before his last race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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