Juan Pablo Montoya had it pegged. A dozen races before the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup was set, he predicted it would take an average finish of 14.5 to qualify for NASCAR's version of the play-offs.

Montoya freely admitted to racing for points in his quest to make the twelve-driver Chase and, with an average finish of 13.8 for the first 26 races, was tenth after the final regular-season event at Richmond on 12 September. Since then, he has upped the ante, finishing third, fourth and fourth in the first three Chase races. Nevertheless, the Colombian trails series leader Mark Martin by 51 points, 40 of which are attributable to Martin's four regular-season wins, worth ten bonus points each to start the Chase.

Similarly, Montoya trails Jimmie Johnson by 33 points, after the three-time champion won three of the first 26 races, worth 30 bonus points. Montoya, on the other hand, hasn't won a Cup race since June 2007, when he posted his only victory in the series at Infineon Raceway.

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"We started the [Chase] with a 40-point deficit because we didn't win any races," he acknowledged, after qualifying fourth for Sunday's Pepsi 500, "Now that you look back at it, you'll be thinking 'I wish we would have won a couple of races'. It's not like I didn't try, you know, but it's where we are.

"We are working hard at it. We would be very happy if we got to Homestead [for the final Chase race on 22 November] with a mathematical chance of winning the championship. It would be huge for us, more than anything. If you can actually go through the ten races and still be a contender, that would be great."

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service