Forecasting The Future

Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne is still looking for a victory to assure himself a spot in the Chase with six races before the 16-driver field is set. (Photo: Getty Images)

With 11 different winners this season heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway, the final five Chase spots - for now - would go to non-winners. That number will shrink if more first-time winners emerge during the final six races before the Chase field is set.

So, who could go from trying to make the Chase through points to securing a spot with a win? Here’s a look at which non-winners have the best chance of breaking through at each track in the coming weeks. 

Understand it won’t be easy. Not with the run Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson have had, or the run by Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Those five drivers have combined to win eight of the last 10 races. Yet, anything is possible and here are the non-winners to watch in the next six races.

Pocono

Kasey Kahne - Will drive the same car he led a race-high 70 laps with last weekend at Indianapolis. Kahne won this race a year ago and was second in this event two years ago. He wasn’t as strong in June before contact late with Kyle Busch ended his race in 42nd. Kahne was upbeat after Indy despite finishing sixth. One of the reasons he could feel good is this is one of the tracks he could score a win before the Chase begins.

Ryan Newman - Has finished seventh of better in each of the past four races at Pocono. He’s bringing a different car than what he raced in June when he placed seventh.

Tony Stewart - Led 24 laps in June but his hopes of winning all but ended with a speeding penalty on pit road. Stewart will have the same car this weekend as then.

Watkins Glen

Marcos Ambrose - No surprise here. Until he was knocked out of last year’s race after contact, he had never finished worse than third at the Glen. He won there in 2011 and ’12. Also, he tested at Watkins Glen in July.

AJ Allmendinger - Tested at the same time as Ambrose. Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 in each of his last three starts there, including an impressive 10th-place run last year for a JTG Daugherty team that was struggling at the time.

Clint Bowyer - Not thought of as a road racer but he did win at Sonoma in 2012 and has placed in the top 10 in his last two races at Watkins Glen. 

Jamie McMurray - Often overlooked on the road courses but has had some good runs.

Michigan

Paul Menard - Finished fourth at this track in June and was ninth at Auto Club Speedway, a sister track to Michigan. The RCR cars are running better. This might be his best chance to score a win and earn a Chase spot.

Kasey Kahne - Placed fifth in June at the track, marking his third top-10 finish there in the last four races.

Kyle Larson - Has the horsepower with Hendrick engines and likes that top line around the track. He nearly won at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year and was eighth at Michigan in June. This could be his weekend.

Greg Biffle - Four of his 19 career wins have come at this track. Only thing is Roush Fenway Racing was not very good in the June race. The team did test at Michigan recently. Could it be enough to return Biffle to Victory Lane there?

Bristol

Matt Kenseth - Has led 31 percent of the laps run in the last two races at Bristol, winning this event last August and finishing 13th in March after he was rammed by another car after the caution waved. 

Marcos Ambrose - Don’t think Watkins Glen is his last chance to win a race. Yes, Ambrose has not won on an oval but he’s been pretty good at Bristol, placing fifth in two of the last four races there. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Finished second to teammate Carl Edwards in March. Question is was that the exception or will that become the norm for him at this track?

Tony Stewart - Has had some of his best finishes on concrete tracks this year with a fourth at Bristol in March and a seventh at Dover in June. 

Atlanta

Matt Kenseth - Some consider Atlanta to be in the same category of rough tracks with Kentucky and Texas. Kenseth was fourth at Kentucky and seventh at Texas. If the trend continues, he could be toward the front. Also, he’s finished in the top 10 in all five races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. 

Paul Menard - Has scored three top-10 finishes in the five races on 1.5-mile tracks. Could be somebody to keep an eye on among the non-winners.

Kasey Kahne - Also has three top-10 finishes in the five races on 1.5-mile tracks. Seems to be getting faster. Another good chance to get a win.

Richmond

Matt Kenseth - Has scored more points than any other non-winner on short tracks this year and placed fifth at Richmond in the spring.

Ryan Newman - Placed in the top 10 in each of the last three September Richmond races.                

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