What you see is likely what you will get

June, 5, 2009
NASCAR is halfway to the Chase, but don't expect many changes among the playoff 12 in the second half of the regular season.

Since the Chase went to 12 drivers in 2007, 11 of the 12 men who were inside the Chase cutoff at the halfway point the last two seasons made the playoff field.

Matt Kenseth was 16th last year at this point and made it in. Kurt Busch overcame a 17th-place ranking in 2007 after 13 races. Both drivers were within 100 points of the 12th spot at the halfway mark.

Three drivers who made the Chase last year -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer -- are outside the top 12 now. None of them is within 100 points of 12th.

Bowyer has the best chance at 118 points back in 16th, but it's a huge long shot for Earnhardt or Harvick to make the Chase this season.

Earnhardt is 18th, 215 points behind 12th-place Mark Martin. Harvick, who made the Chase each of the last three seasons, is a shocking 24th, 306 points outside a playoff spot.

Kenseth is the only driver in the history of the Chase to make the playoff when he was more than 100 points behind after 13 races. He ranked 22nd, 278 points back, in 2005 but came back to earn one of the 10 playoff spots with six top-5s and nine top-10s in the second half of the regular season.

Three drivers outside the top 12 now -- David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya -- still are within 100 points of the cutoff spot.

Reutimann, only 31 points back in 13th, got a boost with his rain-shortened victory at Charlotte.

Kahne, 66 points back in 14th, had a season-best sixth-place showing last weekend at Dover. He made the most of his first race with the new Dodge engine and now heads to Pocono, where he won a year ago.

Montoya, 92 points behind 12th in 15th place, hopes to gain ground at the upcoming road course race in Sonoma, where he won in 2007 and finished sixth last year.

The problem is, who's going to fall out of a playoff spot now? Only one driver ranked in the top 12 at this point ever has fallen out of a playoff position after the midway point of the regular season.

That driver is Tony Stewart, the points leader at the moment. He ranked fifth after 13 races in 2006, but fell to 11th after 26 races, one below the 10-driver cutoff that season. Had the 12-man field been in place, he still would have made it.

So no driver in the top 12 now has fallen below the top 12 after the halfway mark to the Chase.

What it boils down to is this: With very few exceptions, if any, the drivers in the top 12 now are the ones you will see battling for the championship in the fall.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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