NASCAR Dover 2013: Is the Chase a 3-man race?

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR’s Chase has seemingly evolved into a three-man race for the championship, though those involved would disagree.

A look at Sprint Cup Series standings, and a noticeable gap is apparent between the top three drivers -- Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson -- and the other 10 drivers who comprise the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Just two races into the Chase, Kenseth has a pair of of dominant victories, Busch has two runner-ups and Johnson has finished no worse than fifth. Accordingly, this trio sits 1-2-3 in the standings with Johnson a mere 18 points behind championship leader Kenseth. Fourth-place Carl Edwards is 36 points out of first -- almost a full race.

"You can call it a three-man race, but it's still way too early to count many out yet"-Jimmie Johnson

History supports the notion that Kenseth, Busch or Johnson will go on to eventually claim the title. In the Chase era, which began in 2004, only twice has a driver been ranked lower than third then gone on to win championship.

Not surprisingly, none of three drivers are viewing the Chase as a three-man race. Busch called it "too early" and is paying no attention to the championship order. Meanwhile, Johnson cited Talladega and the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing as his reason why no one should be considered eliminated.

"I mean it's easy to look at it that way, but I'm not putting my guard down," Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. "We still have Talladega, and a lot of these tracks can take out multiple cars. You have that risk here; if something happens, you usually take a car or two with you.

"I'm certainly looking forward and there are only two guys that I'm paying attention to right now, so in that mindset, sure you can call it a three-man race, but it's still way too early to count many out yet."

One of those drivers echoing Johnson's sentiments is Greg Biffle, ranked fifth overall, trailing Kenseth by 38 points.

More: Dover weather forecast | Kenseth positioned to win second title

"The Chase, from what I understand, is made up of 10 races, and to be two races into the Chase and say it's a three-man race already, to me, seems silly," Biffle said.

If there is a driver who knows how quickly a driver's Chase fortunes can turn, it would be Biffle. In 2008, he opened NASCAR's playoffs with consecutive wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover, but in the next eight races his average finish was 11.25. He may have a point when you consider the reliability issues that have hampered Joe Gibbs Racing this season. Kenseth and Busch each have two engine-related DNFs, and Martinsville and Talladega are still to come.

"We try to get through the first few races and build a strong foundation," Busch said. "And for those that can build a strong foundation, it's usually beneficial to their Chase; the others sort of start out with a bad couple of weeks.

"So it all gets jumbled up in the beginning ... and then at the end you know who the players are going to be. You just kind of have to -- I'd say you wait through Talladega, and once you get past that you'll know who your players are going to be."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

"Rush" more than just a motorsports film

Ryan Blaney happy at Penske, future plans unknown

NASCAR power rankings: Kenseth, Busch, Johnson -- then everyone else

Kenseth wins Loudon, extends Sprint Cup lead

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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