Crunching numbers after Bristol

August, 25, 2009
08/25/09
1:52
PM ET

Let's all take a second to exhale.

In the past few weeks, we've seen rain postponements, fuel mileage races and an upset win thrown in here and there. It makes a Bristol race look relatively tame in comparison.

Meanwhile, the bubble picture remains as murky as ever, but I'm here to help you. With some time now to collect your thoughts and really contemplate what will happen in the next two races, I'll give you my odds of who I think will make the Chase.

In my mind, it'll take 3,176 points to get into the Chase. Don't ask me for my formula; I myself am still trying to figure it out. If you think the percentages are high, remember that there's still six slots open, so technically, 600 percentage points to spread among these guys.

Already in: Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon

Locks: Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch

These guys all have a 190-plus point lead over 13th. They can lose it, but I'm writing these guys in, and I'm using pen, not pencil.

The Bubble: Ryan Newman (currently seventh, 84 points ahead of 13th): 97 percent chance

This was a driver I thought would have to watch out, just because of his struggles recently at Bristol and Atlanta. But his sixth-place run at Bristol solidified his position.

Mark Martin (currently 10th, 60 points ahead of 13th): 95 percent chance

Martin's numbers recently at Atlanta aren't the best, but he has excelled at Richmond. Add that to the veteran's experience and Hendrick horsepower, and I like Martin's odds.

Greg Biffle (currently eighth, 75 points ahead of 13th): 90 percent chance

The Roush cars have been down this season but Biffle quietly turned it around over the past five races. He's got three top-5s and no finish worse than 20th in that span.

Matt Kenseth (currently 12th, 34 points ahead of 13th): 85 percent chance

This might seem high for the driver currently sitting on the bubble, but look at the potential points he can gain at Atlanta. Dating back to 2006, Kenseth hasn't finished worse than 13th there.

Kasey Kahne (currently 11th, 52 points ahead of 13th): 68 percent chance

This one I feel less sure about, as Kahne's margin above 13th is pretty slim. My worry here is a lack of recent spectacular finishes and the absence of a teammate among the points leaders.

Kyle Busch (currently 13th, 34 points behind 12th): 58 percent chance

Are you surprised? You shouldn't be, as Busch has won recently at Atlanta, and won earlier this season at Richmond. It seems like his head is on straight, and the Bristol win could be the start of something spectacular.

Juan Pablo Montoya (currently ninth, 64 points ahead of 13th): 49 percent chance

I have him as the first driver out, but only a point out of what I think it'll take to get in. So I'm ruling him out, but by the slimmest of margins. Montoya and his team seemed content to race conservatively and collect points down the stretch, but then they don't pit when a tire could be going down? Confusing.

Brian Vickers (currently 14th, 39 points behind 12th): 45 percent chance

Vickers could look as good at Atlanta, where he finished fifth earlier this season, as he'll look bad at Richmond, where he has only one finish better than 24th in his past nine races. And that was a 15th.

Clint Bowyer (currently 15th, 112 points behind 12th): 10 percent chance

You can't rule him out, but the Childress cars don't seem to be able to run up front.

David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton (currently 16th through 18th): 1 percent apiece

Still mathematically eligible, but let's get real.

Back in the mix

All is normal back in the NASCAR world once again. Kyle Busch entered three races this weekend, won two and crashed out of the other one. But let's not get into Chase Austin here.

Those wins now give him 55 in the three NASCAR National Touring Series, which ties him with Rusty Wallace for the ninth-most in NASCAR history. I need not remind you that he's just 24 years old, and is already more than a quarter of the way to Richard Petty's record of 200. Now, Petty didn't have the Nationwide and Trucks series to pad his win totals, but he was also racing in a far-less competitive era in the Cup series.

Busch's winning percentage is .138, Wallace's is .073. If you're curious, Petty's was .169. Busch does have a ways to go before reaching No. 8 on the list. Cale Yarborough holds the eighth slot with 83.

Trivia break: Whom did Busch pass this weekend, now 11th on the all-time list with 54 wins?

High five

Mark Martin didn't use his bumper to move Kyle Busch out of the way and take the Bristol win. No surprise there; Busch was racing against one of the finest gentlemen in NASCAR's history.

A little consolation for the 50-year-old wonder kid. That was the 250th top-5 finish in Martin's Cup series career. He's just the eighth driver to reach that mark, and he stands out like a sore thumb for one reason. Check out the list:

Most career top-5s in the Cup series
Driver -- Top-5s -- Championships
Richard Petty -- 555 -- 7
Bobby Allison -- 335 -- 1
David Pearson -- 301 -- 3
Dale Earnhardt -- 281 -- 7
Darrell Waltrip -- 276 -- 3
Jeff Gordon -- 258 -- 4
Cale Yarborough -- 255 -- 3
Mark Martin -- 250 -- 0

Could this be the year Martin turns that zero into a one? He'll have a lot of people rooting for him.

Trivia break: Martin joined which two drivers with 1,000 career NASCAR National Touring Series starts this weekend?

He comes from the Land Down Under

You better run, you better take cover. Now that that's running through your head … you're welcome.

Marcos Ambrose actually looked like he had a car to win Saturday night's race, given that it looked like he could pass people high or low. He finished third, but that was his best career Sprint Cup Series finish not on a road course. And the Aussie's been pretty adept at moving through the field in these races.

Marcos Ambrose best career non-road course finishes, Sprint Cup
Race (date) -- Finish -- Start
Bristol (8/22/09) -- third -- 25th
Talladega (4/26/09) -- fourth -- 34th
Pocono (6/7/09) -- sixth -- 20th
Daytona (7/4/09) -- sixth -- 18th
Bristol (3/22/09) -- 10th -- 13th

Trivia break: Who are the only drivers with top-10 finishes in each short-track race this season?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Kyle Busch passed Lee Petty, who has 54 career NASCAR wins.

2. Richard Petty and Michael Waltrip also have more than 1,000 combined starts in the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series

3. Mark Martin and Ryan Newman each have top-10 finishes in all four short-track races this season.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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