NASCAR & Auto Racing

More contenders exist

than Chase slots

Want to know the formula for deciding which drivers can make the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup? Well, that involves a little bit of algebra.

You remember algebra, right? That stuff you were convinced you'd never use again. Just about the time you figured out what "x" was, your teacher started bringing "y" into the equation.

Well, this formula is relatively painless. Here it is:

19 + 2(x) = 12

Actually, you can't use algebra to solve that. You could -- it'd be -3.5 if you want to be a stickler about it. But this isn't quite that precise. This is an inexact science, at best.

No matter how you slice it, there will be more drivers who could fill the slots than there are slots in NASCAR's championship format.

So, now, time to break down the equation.



GROUP 1 -- COUNT ON ME


Four drivers = Four Chase spots

Start with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Questions? Come on, after the years they had, is there any reason to think they won't cruise back into the 2008 Chase?You also have to put Tony Stewart in this group. Yes, his team will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota, and Toyota had a tough time during its inaugural season. But none of the Toyotas that ran this year were built by Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the sport's best teams. Stewart will be fine.

So will Carl Edwards. He and crew chief Bob Osborne have proven twice that they're good together, and we think they're good to go.



GROUP 2 -- THE LIKELY SUSPECTS


10 drivers = Six (maybe seven) Chase spots

You're saying, "Wait, what about Matt Kenseth?" Yes, Kenseth has made every Chase. Yes, he's one of the most consistent drivers. But for the first time since he's been a full-time NASCAR driver, he'll have a new crew chief now that Robbie Reiser is managing Roush Fenway Racing's Cup program.

Nobody's saying Kenseth won't make the Chase. He's actually right on the cusp of making that first group. But that tinge of doubt drops him into the next tier where it's harder to predict who'll miss the Chase than who'll make it.

There are Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Stewart's teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. There are the three Richard Childress Racing drivers, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, who all made the 2007 Chase. Then you have Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who also made this year's Chase. We also put Ryan Newman, Busch's Penske Racing teammate, in this category.

Then, of course, there's Dale Earnhardt Jr. He didn't make the Chase during his final year with Dale Earnhardt Inc., but he's moving along with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to Hendrick Motorsports. Plainly put, we think it's far more likely Earnhardt Jr. will be a legitimate title contender in a Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet than it is that he'll go another full season without winning.



GROUP 3 -- SOMEBODY SPECIAL


Five drivers = One (maybe two) Chase spot

Casey Mears could be the breakout driver of 2008 as he moves to the No. 5 team at Hendrick. If he hadn't gotten off to such a poor start, he might have made the Chase this year.Roush Fenway teammates Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray stand to benefit from the fact their teams will be ready to compete with the car of tomorrow from the first week of the season. Biffle's looking to return to the form he showed while contending for a title two years ago, and McMurray wants to fulfill the promise he showed as his Cup career got rolling.

Kasey Kahne has a new chance to get whatever ruined his No. 9 Dodge team's season behind him.

Then, there's Juan Pablo Montoya. If he improves as much between the start and end of the 2008 season as he did as a Cup rookie, watch out.



GROUP 4 -- WHO'D WE MISS?


The rest of the field = Maybe one Chase spot

Here's where the 2(x) in the formula comes in.

Look, unless we list 43 names there's going to be somebody who pops up and runs unexpectedly well. We figure two of them -- guys like Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers or even somebody else -- at least will seem like they're legitimate long shots as the season unfolds.

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