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Sunday, June 26, 2016

NASCAR Down the Stretch

NASCAR is headed into the home stretch towards the Chase for the Championship.  With the completion of today's road race at Sonoma, there are only 10 races left before the 16-driver field is set for the Chase.  It is time to take a look back at what has happened so far and what to expect as summer turns to fall.

Stewart wins Sonoma 2016
Stewart takes the lead at Sonoma (Crabill/Getty)
Predictions and Chalk.  I don't get a lot of chances to do this, so I'm gonna spend some time tooting my own horn to start this post.  Back when I wrote the NASCAR preview post, I predicted that all four Gibbs teams would make the Chase.  At this point in the season, all four would qualify.  In fact, everyone I mentioned as a strong contender this year would currently make the Chase.

To be fair, though, it's not too hard to make good predictions when there have been so few surprises.  Part of the excitement of the Chase format is that anyone who wins a race is almost assured a playoff position.  This means there is the potential for a surprise someone to jump into the championship picture.  Up to this point this year, the Chase field is made up of the big boys.  Up until today's race at the Sonoma road course, no one was qualified for the race by virtue of a win that would not have otherwise been qualified by points.

Tony Stewart's win at Sonoma was the first win of the year by a driver back deep in the points, but a Smoke win can hardly be considered a shocker.  After all, Stewart is a defending series champ and was only deep in the points because of missing the start of the season with a non-racing back injury.

Kyle Larson 2016
Kyle Larson needs a win in 2016
Looking Ahead.  With ten races left to go before the Chase starts, there are still plenty of chances for an outsider to sneak in and for a solid points guys to nail down a slot with win.  The remaining ten races include a variety of interesting tracks.  Among those ten races are the high banks of Daytona, the Brickyard, the Tricky Triangle at Pocono, Darlington, a re-paved and reconfigured Kentucky and the road course at Watkins Glen.

Among the guys currently on the outside of the Chase looking in who have a strong chance to win and get in are Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle and Paul Menard.  Daytona, in particular, presents an excellent chance for the Hendrick powered Kahne and the super speedway savvy Menard to notch a victory.  If any of those guys nab a win, it could make things very dicey for the likes of fan-favorite Dale, Jr. and sentimental favorite Ryan Blaney.

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