Which Eligible NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Will Miss out on the 2014 Chase?
Like water circling around in a sink before going down a drain, those drivers that have not yet qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup are slowly watching their playoff hopes also go down the drain.
With 11 drivers already having earned wins in the first 19 races thus far, and just five more open spots remaining to be filled in the next seven races to make up the final 16-driver Chase field, there's going to be some rather hectic activity coming up.
So who makes it and who doesn't? It's as simple a question as it gets.
While we still think winless drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne will win between now and Richmond, punching their tickets into the Chase, there's also a lot of other good drivers that, in our opinion, are ultimately going to fall short.
One other winless driver, Matt Kenseth, will likely make it into the Chase even if he doesn't win a race by virtue of where he's at in the points (and provided there suddenly aren't five or more first-time 2014 winners in the next seven races)
With only the top 30 drivers in the standings eligible to qualify for the Chase, here are our picks of those who likely will miss this year's 10-race marquee part of NASCAR's season (in no particular order):
We like what we see in Austin Dillon. He's worked his way up through the racing ranks and has achieved success at every stop he's made.
But Dillon will not only not make the Chase in his first season in Sprint Cup, he'll also miss out on Rookie of the Year honors to Kyle Larson.
Still, Dillon has nothing to be ashamed of. He's done a great deal in his first season in Sprint Cup and holds great promise of qualifying for more Chases in years to come.
We don't know what's happened to Clint this year, but he just doesn't look like the Clint of old.
What's more, he's not won a race in his last 60 starts, dating back to the 31st race in 2012.
Sure, he may be 10th in the points standings right now, but he's a much more precarious 14th in the pre-Chase standings. Lots of things can happen between now and the final Chase qualifier at Richmond.
If Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson all win races between now and Richmond, that would knock Bowyer out.
It's going to be close, but Bowyer is going to come up short when all is said and done.
While Biffle will likely remain in the Roush Fenway Racing camp after this season, it's our take that Carl Edwards will be the only RFR representative in this year's Chase.
Biffle has been so far off the radar this season, something that truly surprises us. Even if he had $10 million bucks, he couldn't buy a win.
We do see The Biff winning at least one race in the remainder of the 2014 season, but we don't see it being before Richmond—and certainly not before he would somehow potentially sneak into the Chase.
Vickers has looked good at times in his first full season with Michael Waltrip Racing.
But "at times" are the operative words.
Vickers could still surprise us and get a win between now and Richmond. But we look at that with a glass half-empty perspective: if he hasn't won by now, why would he then win before Richmond?
Much like Biffle, we think Vickers will win a race this season. It's just not going to be in time to get him into the Chase.
McMurray is one of the nicest guys in the sport. He deserves better than to struggle seemingly every single year—and this year has been no different.
Even when he won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Bank of America 500 all in the same year (2010), McMurray still fell short of making the Chase.
Jamie Mac is one of NASCAR's tough-luck stories. His talent is so much better than his results indicate.
Unfortunately, 2014 will be another year that could have been—but, once again, wasn't.
Martin Truex Jr.
After failing to make the Chase last season with Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex moved to Furniture Row Racing this season.
Everything was in place for a new and fresh start.
While Truex looked good earlier this season, his performance has since faded.
Unless he manages to earn a fluke win between now and Richmond that would make him Chase-eligible, he'll likely wind up doing the same thing in the first year with his new team as he did in his last year with his old team: miss the Chase.
Allmendinger has had a resurgence of sorts in 2014, most notably being signed to a full-time deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.
Unfortunately, the one-car team just doesn't seem to have the resources to get Allmendinger into the Chase.
He could pull a surprise, particularly at Watkins Glen, but unless he has a car comparable with other top teams and drivers, he'll continue to be what he's been so far: an also-ran.
With a famous racing surname like Mears, Casey should have much greater success in Sprint Cup than he has.
He's shined at times, there's no question about it. But, unfortunately for Mears and his fans, those shining times have been very few and far between in his career.
Fortunately, he is with a team that believes in him and is happy with his performance for the most part.
Otherwise, he might be gone by now. But it appears Mears has a ride for the rest of his Cup career.
And if his team is okay with him not making the Chase between now and the time he retires, so be it.
While we still think Ambrose has a chance to join Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola in the Chase, he's probably not going to earn it at the place so many people think he will: the road course at Watkins Glen.
Sure, Ambrose has two recent wins at The Glen, but we have a sense that same kind of luck won't be there in next month's race.
And that's unfortunate, as he's in his final season under contract with RPM and there's been little news about whether he'll re-sign and return, move to another team or even go back to his native Australia.
Ambrose has considerable talent. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other drivers that have even greater talent.
Sure, he's a whiz on road courses, but with only two of those on the schedule, that leaves 24 other races before the Chase that his performances have needed or still need to be significantly better to make the expanded and reformatted Chase.
Thus far, they haven't.
I may be the only person in the world thinking this, but I believe Danica Patrick, albeit a long shot, could potentially still make the Chase this year—but she'll also have to win a race to do so.
That's going to be easier said than done.
Sure, she'll need all the stars and planets to align, she'll have to hope all the drivers better than her have a collective bad day, or, like Aric Almirola, she might be able to steal a win and sneak into the Chase if she wins a rain-shortened event between now and Richmond.
I still stick to my original prediction that she would win a race by her third full-time season in Sprint Cup and that she'd make the Chase in the first three to five years of her Cup tenure. She has an excellent opportunity to fast-track that in the next seven races and has the equipment and team behind her to get her there.
Now it's all up to her to do it.
That's going to be easier said than done, as well.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Granted, the sophomore season for many drivers in Sprint Cup can be difficult and trying.
But with the way Stenhouse has all but disappeared off the Sprint Cup radar in his second full-time season in the series, there's no way he makes the Chase this season.
No chance of stealing a win. No chance of making it by a fluke, either.
Given the way he's performed this season, and the fact she's ahead of him in the standings, girlfriend Danica Patrick will likely make the Chase before he does.
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