Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart among those winless, seeking Chase for the Sprint Cup berth

Jared C. Tilton

As NASCAR hits its summer stretch, these six drivers are the likeliest to win and in the process, claim a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

As it stands now, Jimmie Johnson's victory Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway makes it a total of 10 different drivers in 12 races who have won a race in 2014. It is conceivable that the entirety of the Chase for the Sprint Cup field consists solely of winners with 14 regular-season races still to go.

This remains an unlikely proposition, however, as not once in the Chase era has the 26-race regular season seen more than 16 different drivers take a trip to the winner's circle. And though some big names remain winless, the odds favor the likes of Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and others continuing their winning ways.

But it is equally unwise to think someone won't do what Johnson did in the Coca-Cola 600 and bust through and punch his Chase ticket sometime in the next three-plus months. So for the sake of argument, let's say six additional drivers do win before the playoffs begin Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway. In order, here are the likeliest candidates.

1. Matt Kenseth

The obvious, consensus and easy choice for No. 1 considering Kenseth is ranked second in points, tied with Jeff Gordon for the most top-10s (nine) and has come close several times already to winning. Kenseth should be expected not to just get a lone win sometime in the next 14 races, but multiple.

Best bets: Dover, Kentucky, Daytona, New Hampshire, Bristol or Richmond

2. Tony Stewart

No, the performance hasn't been there thus far for Stewart, who owns just a pair of top-five finishes and sits 22nd in points. But the same thing could have been said of him a year ago when the owner/driver entered Dover in similar fashion (only two top-10s, 16th in points) and yet that turned out remarkably well. And considering Stewart has never gone through a season without picking up at least one victory, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Best bets: Dover, Pocono, Daytona, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen or Bristol

3. Kasey Kahne

It's been a bit of a slow start for Kahne, but that's not usual nor cause for concern. He and crew chief Kenny Francis have shown speed this season; what they haven't shown is the execution.

But at some juncture this summer that will change with Kahne and his No. 5 team putting a complete race together. Go ahead and mark Kahne down for a victory or two, and in doing so, securing a Chase berth for the third consecutive year.

Best bets: Pocono, Michigan, New Hampshire, Bristol or Atlanta

4. Marcos Ambrose

Ambrose is the most adroit at turning left and right in the NASCAR garage, and a win at one of or both road courses will likely be enough for him to crash the Chase party. Although he remains winless at Sonoma, the Aussie has been close numerous times and is due for a breakthrough. Watkins Glen is the site of Ambrose's two Cup victories, and he was dominant there last August before crashing out.

Yes, Ambrose is a one-trick (or in this instance a two-trick) pony, but his skill set on a road course is such that he's deserving of a spot on this list.

Best bets: Sonoma, Watkins Glen

5. Jamie McMurray

A cursory glance shows McMurray immersed in his typical OK but not great season -- 23rd in points, three top-10s. But if you dig deeper, you realize he was running in third or better at both Bristol and Kansas when misfortune not of his own doing struck and sent him to the garage early. As his victory in the non-points Sprint All-Star Race shows, this is a driver who is very capable of catching lightning in the bottle on any given weekend, which under the new Chase structure would be good enough for McMurray to snag a playoff spot for the first time in his career.

Best bets: Kentucky, Michigan, Bristol or Atlanta

6. Brian Vickers

In his first full season of Cup since 2011, Vickers has quietly turned in a very effective year. He owns five top-10s, is eighth in points and his average finish in the past six races is 11, which includes a Darlington spin on pit road negating another very good result. And that Vickers has done all this with a refurbished and scaled-down Michael Waltrip Racing team and a first-year crew chief in Billy Scott, makes it all the more remarkable.

Best bets: Sonoma, New Hampshire or Atlanta

Others deserving of consideration: Kyle Larson; Greg Biffle

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