The end of the Challenger Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is upon us, and it comes down to the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, September 28th. After this race, four drivers will be eliminated from the Chase, setting up the three-race, 12-driver Contender Round. Brad Keselowski ad Joey Logano, based on their wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, are locked in to the next round, with 10 more spots up for grabs.
Positions 8-16 are separated by just 12 points – more than enough to be made up or lost in a race – and some of the names on the brink are surprising. Here’s a look at a few of the drivers with a lot of prove this weekend.
Matt Kenseth – One season removed from finishing runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the Chase with seven wins during the season, Kenseth is still looking for win No. 1 in 2014. Kenseth is tied for eighth, 13 points behind seventh-place Jeff Gordon, and visiting a track he has had some success at. Kenseth made his Cup Series debut at Dover back in 1998, substituting for Bill Elliott, and finished sixth – he has since racked up 20 top 10s in 31 starts, including a win in spring 2011.
Carl Edwards – Edwards picked up two wins during the “regular season,” and has had two respectable finishes in the Chase so for – 20th and 17th. Respectable numbers aren’t good enough this time, and he needs to improve at Dover to be successful. Edwards has one win at the one-mile concrete oval, along with 12 top 10 finishes in his 20 starts at the track – that win coming all the way back in fall 2007.
Ryan Newman – Newman has the most wins of the borderline drivers at Dover – three, all of which came in 2003 and 2004. In addition to 12 top 10 finishes in 25 starts, he also has four poles, all from his glory days as the “Rocket Man” at Team Penske. Newman is presently sitting in 12th place – the cutoff spot – and has a six-point lead on the 13th-place drivers, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is at a six-point disadvantage going into a track that has not been kind to him in the past. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is winless at Dover, with just six top 10 finishes and an average finish of 19.6. One bright side to Dover for Hamlin: he finished fifth in the spring race this year.
Greg Biffle – Biffle has had better luck than Hamlin at Dover, with two wins and 11 top 10s in 24 starts. The down side: he finished 38th in the spring.
Also on the brink – AJ Allmendinger has been a surprise in the Chase, currently sitting in 10th just one point behind Kenseth and Edwards. Kasey Kahne, who made the Chase at nearly the last minute by winning at Atlanta, is one point behind Allmendinger and tied with Newman. Kurt Busch, sitting 15th in points, looked good after an eighth-place finish at Chicagoland, but fell flat with a 36th-place run at New Hampshire. Aric Almirola, in 16th, had to make up for a 41st-place finish in Chicagoland; his sixth-place run at New Hampshire will not be enough.
Qualifying for the AAA 400 at Dover takes place Friday at 3:40 p.m. ET, with the race going green Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nascar.com.
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