The race to the Chase has officially begun as there are only 10 regular season races remaining before NASCAR's playoffs commence Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Although we have a fairly good idea of which 12 drivers will qualify, there will inevitably be some unexpected twists and turns over the next two-plus months. But as of now, here is a look at how the Chase field currently stacks up.
Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch
The six drivers above are currently eighth or higher in the standings and all, with the exception of Edwards and Bowyer, have multiple wins. But in the case of Edwards and Bowyer, they sit second and third overall and each has nine top-10 finishes, tied for second-best behind Johnson's 10.
In short, it would take a prodigious collapse for any one of the six not to qualify, and there is no reason to think that's going to happen.
Likely in, though there is still work to do
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle
Earnhardt has been one of the steadiest drivers all season, and were it not for a pair of blown engines and assorted mechanical failures, he would be ranked higher than sixth in points. What's holding him back is the same issue he's had for years: He simply doesn't win enough.
It's been over a year since he last won, and Earnhardt hasn't posted multiple victories in a season since 2004 when he won six times. This means if he were to fall out of the top-10 he likely wouldn't be eligible to claim one of the two wildcard spots available.
However, with a cushy 34-point margin over 11th-place Paul Menard this shouldn't be a concern.
As for Biffle, if he keeps running like he has for the last three weeks with finishes eighth, first and second he will quickly find himself in the above category. For now though, he resides here.
Should be in but could go either way
Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski
This group all made the Chase last year but very much finds themselves on the bubble this season. What's holding back this foursome is their inability to avoid ghastly results as all have a minimum of five finishes of 20th or worse.
Presently, all four would make the Chase -- Keselowski and Truex due to their position in points (ninth and 10th, respectively) while Kahne and Stewart would snag the two wildcard spots because of wins they've amassed.
The danger is if they continue to be consistently inconsistent. Because a win by any of the drivers listed below could easily cause them to lose hold of their precarious footing.
Simply need to win
Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya
It's possible that any one of these five could put together a stretch of high finishes that would vault them into the top 10.
However, this seems unlikely. Consider: Gordon has yet to finish 10th or better in consecutive weeks; Busch, Newman and Montoya have a propensity for self-inflicted mistakes; and Logano still looks like the same driver he was during his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing -- good some weeks, ordinary others.
The likeliest -- and in the cases of Busch, Newman and Montoya only -- way for any of them get into the Chase is by winning. This is something each is capable of doing, especially Gordon, Busch and Montoya who have come close several times this season.
But as of now all are winless, and that has to change if come September they want to be racing for the championship.