Opinion: Heat Is On

NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt is currently in on points, but his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne is on the outside looking in. (Photo: Getty Images)

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A number of drivers are under pressure to make the Chase as the season runs through the summer stretch.

Only eight races remain in the regular season and the opportunities to grab a playoff spot are dwindling. Eleven different drivers have won so far this season leaving for now five Chase spots open through the point system.

The summer temperatures won’t be the only thing putting the heat on these drivers:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The perennial Most Popular Driver is still winless in 2016 and has to date been perhaps the most perplexing driver on the circuit. Earnhardt Jr.’s year has had more ups and down than a roller coaster filled summer day at an amusement park. There have been second-place finishes but he’s only led 53 laps all season long. Crew chief Greg Ives has been under a microscope since taking over for the departed Steve Letarte last season and that scrutiny won’t get any easier the longer Earnhardt Jr. remains winless.

Kyle Larson
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has seemingly been on the verge of winning his first Sprint Cup Series race for more than two years. He came tantalizingly close at Dover in an epic duel he eventually lost to Matt Kenseth. Since then there have been decent finishes but nothing close to making a trip to Victory Lane. Digging out of the point standings to make the Chase seems unlikely so Larson most likely will need that first victory to make the Chase.

Ryan Newman
It’s been more than three years since Newman last won a race and he doesn’t appear close to ending that drought. Consistency has been Newman’s calling card – the formula he used to make the Championship Four race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2014 – and there’s been some signs of that again of late. The good news is Newman is 12th in the point standings and could very well get into the Chase the same way he did two years ago.

AJ Allmendinger
The JTG Daugherty Racing driver had hoped his only Chase chances would come with a win at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen. Allmendinger was in much better shape in the point standings a couple months ago than he is now. Saturday night’s Kentucky disaster basically put Allmendinger’s Chase fortunes on his being able to replicate a Watkins Glen win next month like he did to make the playoffs two years ago.

Chase Elliott
It wasn’t long away it appeared Elliott winning a race wasn’t if but when. He’s been a rookie marvel and climbed as high at sixth in the standings before cooling off in recent weeks, including his early race accident last Saturday night at Kentucky. The next eight races offer a batch of good and bad news. On the upside return trips to Michigan and Bristol but on the down first time Sprint Cup visits to places like New Hampshire and Watkins Glen.

Austin Dillon
The Richard Childress Raving driver is 14th in the point standings and not in bad shape to get into the Chase. But the performance has leveled off in the past month or so and breaking into the win column for a first career Cup victory seems much further away than it did in say May. Indianapolis could be a spot for Dillon to shine.

Kasey Kahne
The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been in a funk for nearly two years or specifically since his win Labor Day weekend at Atlanta back in 2014. He’s stuck 17th in the standings He threw a Hail Mary to get into the Chase two years ago with his Atlanta win and he’s going to have to have those similar prayers answered to do it again this year.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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