The final 5: Which drivers have best shot to grab remaining Chase spots?
Jul 17, 2014 at 1:00p ET
With just seven races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, 11 different drivers have won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races so far this season.
As long as they stay in the top 30 in points and attempt to qualify for each of those next seven races, this year's race winners all will compete in the Chase.
That means the championship hopefuls so far are Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski (3 wins each); Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick (2 wins each); and Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch (1 win each).
It also leaves five spots to fill in the 16-driver Chase field. Obviously, if a new winner comes along, he -- or she -- almost certainly will make the field. But new winners have been rare in recent weeks. There were seven different winners in the first seven races of 2014, but just four new winners in the past 12 races.
Who will the final five to make it in the Chase field be? Here's one scenario:
MATT KENSETH -- The 2003 champion is winless so far, but he's fourth in points, best of the non-winners by a wide margin. Unless something truly bizarre happens, Kenseth should be a lock to make NASCAR's playoff round. He's more than one full race ahead of the closest non-winner behind him, Ryan Newman.
RYAN NEWMAN -- Also comfortably in on points at the moment is the Richard Childress Racing veteran, who moved up to seventh in the standings after a fine top-five finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
PAUL MENARD -- Another RCR driver, Menard is having the best year of his career and he's a past winner of the Brickyard 400, where the Sprint Cup Series races next. And with the improved performance of the RCR fleet, do not be surprised if Menard wins one of the next seven races.
TONY STEWART -- If the Chase began today, Stewart would be on the outside looking in. That said, it's hard to fathom the notion that the three-time Sprint Cup champ will miss the Chase. Every year, Stewart has a hot streak at some point, usually in the summer.
KASEY KAHNE -- While his Hendrick Motorsports teammates hold three of the top five spots in points, Kahne has been an enigma, sitting 17th in the standings. But you have to think that between now and September, he breaks out of his slump and wins a race. Time will tell.