Big names could be in trouble in Chase elimination race

Kyle Busch (left), Kevin Harvick (center) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (right) are three big-name drivers hoping to skirt big-time trouble at Dover.

Brian Lawdermilk

So here we are at the first elimination round of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase. And if you scan down through the points, you will see three really big superstar names — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. –are right there on the edge of being eliminated already.

I don’t know if we could have it any closer or the tension any higher heading into this third race. If you look just inside of the current 12 drivers who could move on, you’ll see Dale Jr. and Jamie McMurray separated from Kyle Busch and Paul Menard, who are in the bottom four, by two points.

Then if you look at sixth through 10th place — which is Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon — you’ll see those five drivers only separated by six points. Now I think those guys are OK because of the cushion behind them, but none of them can afford a major catastrophe Sunday like a blown engine on Lap 2 or just go out there and ride around all race.

We know how Kevin and Kyle are going to run at Dover. These are desperate times for those two as their backs are against the wall for their 2015 championship hopes. If I am Dale Jr. or Jamie, I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep this week because I know those two hungry hounds of Harvick and Busch will be taking no prisoners come Sunday.

In all fairness, the same can be said about our bottom four drivers who are facing elimination. Clint Bowyer, Menard, Harvick and Kyle Busch could literally finish second, third, fourth and fifth on Sunday at Dover — and it still might not be enough to keep them in the Chase.

I run the risk here of being labeled Captain Obvious, but at least one big name in our sport is in serious danger of being knocked out of the Chase in the first round.

Is it going to be Harvick? I’m just not sure because Kevin ran really well at Dover in the spring finishing second.

Could it be Kyle? Again, I’m not sure because Kyle is Kyle and he has one of those fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas plus he’s only one point away from being inside the Top 12 to move on.

Could it be Dale Jr. or Jeff Gordon? Yes, it possibly could but that’s the intrigue of this Chase format.

Originally I had pick Jeff Gordon not to advance to the next round because at the time, his performance just wasn’t there. I’ve seen a little bit more life out of the No. 24 team of late, so I am starting to think he will advance to the next round. The reality, though, is that he and a handful of drivers all run the risk of leaving Dover Sunday evening knowing they have failed to move on in the Chase.

I know everyone probably wants to go ahead and engrave Jimmie Johnson’s name on the winner’s trophy for Sunday. Why not? The man has won there 10 times, including this past spring race. But I say we might want to wait on that. I just think we all need to keep our eyes on Kevin and Kyle because they are going to be tough to handle.

What have they got to lose?  They both are on the outside looking in right now. I think come Sunday it will be "checkers or wreckers" for Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch at Dover.