Oddsmaker for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship
|The NASCAR Sprint Cup Trophy is still up for|
grabs at the halfway point of the Chase. (Getty)
Greg Biffle is 58 points back in sixth place. That means that even if he wins a race and leads the most laps, he'll end up 11 points short of leader Matt Kenseth, should Kenseth wreck out in 43rd place. With five races left, that gap is too much to make up.
Thanks for playing Biffle, Kurt Busch (-59), Clint Bowyer (-63), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-66), Carl Edwards (-67), Joey Logano (-75), Ryan Newman (-78) and Kasey Kahne (-81), but this isn't your year to be crowned champion.
That leaves five drivers with five races to go. Here's a look at how they stack up atthe tracks they'll visit and their potential chances of winning the championship:
5. Kyle Busch (2,188 points, 37 back)
|The wreck at Kansas really|
hurt Kyle Busch. (Getty)
Talladega - 22.9 average finish (17 starts, 1 win, 3 top-fives, 4 top-10s)
Martinsville - 16.1 average finish (17 starts, 0 wins, 8 top-fives, 9 top-10s)
Texas - 14.1 average finish (16 starts, 1 win, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s)
Phoenix - 13.9 average finish (17 starts, 1 win, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Homestead - 23.1 average finish (8 starts 0 wins, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s)
Perhaps if the wreck at Kansas didn't happen, Busch would still have a reasonable shot at sitting atop the standings. Unfortunately, at this point, he's a long way back and has four drivers to leap frog. Put it this way: he finished fifth last week at Charlotte and still lost ground. That has to be frustrating for a driver that has four top-fives in five Chase races.
This final stretch of tracks haven't been kind to Busch. Talladega might be a wild card, but he's flat out struggled at a place like Homestead. He's been so strong in the Chase that he could go on a tear, but that still probably won't be enough to overcome the the 34th at Kansas. Kyle Busch's odds of winning the championship are only about 5%.
4. Jeff Gordon (2,189 points, 36 back)
|Jeff Gordon has made the most of being|
named as a 13th driver Chase driver. (Getty)
Talladega - 16.3 average finish (41 starts, 6 wins, 15 top-fives, 19 top-10s)
Martinsville - 7.0 average finish (41 starts, 7 wins, 26 top-fives, 33 top-10s)
Texas - 17.0 average finish (25 starts, 1 win, 8 top-fives, 11 top-10s)
Phoenix - 11.4 average finish (29 starts, 2 wins, 10 top-fives, 20 top-10s)
Homestead - 10.6 average finish (14 starts, 1 win, 7 top-fives, 11 top-10s)
Gordon is winless on the season, and it's unlikely he'll close the 36-point gap without the help of those three bonus points. The next two races will be key. He doesn't need to win at Talladega, he just needs to survive. He does need to take the checkered at Martinsvillle, and he should be running up near the front, considering his 26 top-fives in 41 starts.
Gordon is one of the better drivers in NASCAR history, but if he won, the offseason would be filled with discussion on whether he should have been added to the Chase or not. There's really no right or wrong answer, and it'd be best for the sport to avoid that uncomfortable controversy. All in all, it likely won't be an issue, as Gordon hasn't been dominant enough at any point in the last few years to close 36 points on the top of the field. However, he has been good enough at most every track remaining, except for Texas, that such a run is fathomable. Jeff Gordon's odds of winning the championship are about 5%.
3. Kevin Harvick (2,196 points, 29 back)
|Kevin Harvick launched himself into|
contention with a win at Kansas. (Getty)
Talladega - 16.4 average finish (25 starts, 1 win, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Martinsville - 16.6 average finish (24 starts, 1 win, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Texas - 12.5 average finish (21 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Phoenix - 12.9 average finish (21 starts, 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Homestead - 7.9 average finish (12 starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
In the most meaningless stat of the day, Harvick has 10 top-10s at each of the five remaining tracks on the schedule. What does that mean? Well, the answer "nothing" comes to mind, but not so fast. Harvick's calling card (they still have those!?) is his consistency with the ability to sprinkle in a win now and again, and that shows up in this stat.
That approach has put Harvick closer to the championship in recent seasons than most drivers and it's worked again this year. He picked up a win two weeks ago at Kansas, his third of the season, and is in position to move up should Kenseth and Johnson each have a bad race in the next five. Unlike Busch or Gordon, he doesn't need to leap frog anyone other than those two, and if he can hang around with top-10s and pick up one more win, he could win it. Kevin Harvick's odds of winning the championship are about 15%.
2. Jimmie Johnson (2,221 points, 4 back)
|Jimmie Johnson looks poised to|
win his sixth Cup. (Getty, 2010)
Talladega - 17.1 average finish (23 starts, 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s)
Martinsville - 5.3 average finish (23 starts, 8 wins, 16 top-fives, 20 top-10s)
Texas - 9.1 average finish (20 starts, 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 15 top-10s)
Phoenix - 6.4 average finish (20 starts, 4 wins, 13 top-fives, 16 top-10s)
Homestead - 15.3 average finish (12 starts, 0 wins, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s)
This is right where Johnson wants to be. In three of his five championship runs from 2006-10, Johnson sat in second with three or less races to go. He racks up top-fives throughout the Chase and then strikes for a win when the opportunity arises. He did that last year with wins at Martinsville and Texas before bad luck at Phoenix knocked him back.
The key will be simply surviving Talladega this weekend. Then, that Phoenix race should be where he makes his move, as he won that race in three of five championship seasons and finished second and fifth in the other two. His gaudy average finishing numbers and win totals at three of the five tracks suggest that he is certainly capable of giving the points leader the good, ol' bump-and-run. Jimmie Johnson's odds of winning a championship are about 45%.
1. Matt Kenseth (2,225 points, leader)
|Matt Kenseth's first career win at NHMS|
showed he can compete anywhere. (Getty)
Talladega - 17.6 average finish (27 starts, 1 win, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s)
Martinsville - 15.8 average finish (27 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 8 top-10s)
Texas - 8.5 average finish (22 starts, 2 wins, 12 top-fives, 15 top-10s)
Phoenix - 17.2 average finish (22 starts, 1 win, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s)
Homestead - 17.6 average finish (13 starts, 1 win, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s)
Kenseth would make the late Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, proud with his "just win, baby, win" attitude. He's reeled off a series-leading seven wins on the season, but that has really been the crux of his success. In fact, even with those wins, he's only fourth in the series in average finishing position at 12.4 and has just two other top-fives outside those seven wins.
He's been good at tracks that he hasn't in the past; his first career win at New Hampshire in September was a testament to that, but he's going to need to go above and beyond to hold his points lead over the last five races.
He gives up nearly 21 average finishing points combined to Johnson at Martinsville and Phoenix. When a driver wins, he gets four points more than his closest competitor (before bonus points for laps), and that's Kenseth's lead on Johnson. With the No. 48's ability to win at those two tracks, Kenseth's finish immediately turns into trying salvage points behind the new leader, should Jimmie win one of those. Kenseth needs to outperform his stats, and he needs to win again; Texas is his best bet. Matt Kenseth's odds of winning a championship are about 30%.