FOX NASCAR Analysts Discuss Storylines Headed Into Richmond

With one race remaining before the field is set for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, FOX NASCAR analysts Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds share their thoughts on drivers’ last-ditch efforts to qualify for the Chase and the complexion of the 10-race championship.

Which of the “bubble" drivers will get into the Chase and which will miss the cut?

McReynolds: “The 16 drivers currently in the Chase will be the ones locked in when we leave Richmond. I don’t see it changing. We keep waiting on Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle or Tony Stewart to win a race, and while that can happen, it won’t. I don’t see any of them coming even remotely close to winning a race in time for the Chase."

Waltrip: “It’s all but decided. I don’t see anything changing unless someone wins a race this weekend, and no one has shown the speed to keep up with the Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. I don’t foresee any real drama at Richmond unless someone unexpectedly finds some speed."

Of those drivers who must win at Richmond to make the Chase, who stands the best chance of doing so?

McReynolds: “That’s almost like asking me to pick my favorite kid because none of them rank any higher or jump out at me any more than another. But while you might expect me to say Kasey Kahne because he pulled off the same feat last year at Atlanta, I’ll say Kyle Larson. But again, I can’t see any of those ‘bubble’ guys winning this weekend."

Who is peaking at the right time with the Chase beginning in one week?

McReynolds: “We’ve had the variable of lots of different rule packages the last few weeks, but if you’re going to win races or win the championship, you must beat Joe Gibbs Racing or Kevin Harvick. Harvick hasn’t won since Phoenix but got his 18th top-five finish of the season at Darlington and is having a better overall season to-date than he did in 2014. But JGR and Team Penske have won nine of the last 10 races, so I bet they continue to peak."

Waltrip: “The four JGR cars are outperforming everyone, and the two Penske cars are right there with them, as is Kevin Harvick. Those seven drivers dominate and are at the top of the heap every week. But still in the back of my mind is the fact Jimmie Johnson’s 10 best tracks are in the Chase, so it will be interesting to see if the Hendrick cars can step it up and match the speed of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars. But looking ahead to the Chase, it’s more predictable than it’s been in a while because of the dominance of those six or seven drivers."

On whether 2015 could see a Championship 4 round at Homestead without a Hendrick Motorsports car:

McReynolds: “Much like the NFL playoffs, once the Chase starts, the intensity changes, so we can’t take our eyes off the No. 48 team. But Hendrick Motorsports is behind as a whole right now. Jeff Gordon showed some spark and competitiveness at Darlington, but the organization only landed one car in the top 10. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hendrick shut out of the final four at Homestead this season."

On which driver needs to turn it up a notch when the Chase kicks off at Chicagoland Speedway:

McReynolds: “Each of the drivers who make the Chase based on points but don’t have a win really need to turn up the wick once the Chase gets started. Guys like Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray finish races consistently, which is why they’re in this position. That will get you in the Chase, but it won’t get you very far. They’re not top-five teams — they’re barely top-10 teams. If this group wants to play ball with the big boys for the championship, they have to step it up."

Waltrip: “Anybody other than Kevin Harvick, the four JGR and the two Penske cars need to step it up as soon as the Chase kicks off. Nobody can match the speed of those JGR cars, and the No. 4 car is right there every week trying to catch them."

Can you say at what point in the Chase a win becomes necessary to continue advancing into the next round?

McReynolds: “There isn’t a certain point. But if a driver can ‘Kevin Harvick’ it and top-five the competition to death, he will be in the Championship 4 round. A driver doesn’t have to win. The math shows they don’t have to win. But they have to be more than just consistent and will need top-10 and top-five finishes to keep moving along. Going back to last year, Harvick advanced to the final round after winning in a must-win situation at Phoenix, and Brad Keselowski did the same thing at Talladega. Keep a close eye on those final races of each round because some drivers will have to win to advance."

Waltrip: “The way it has gone with JGR winning every week, it’s going to be hard for anyone else to get a win, so the other drivers need to concentrate on getting maximum points every week and hope those top dogs falter at some point. That’s their only prayer. They need to be thinking about how many points they need to advance to the next round like Ryan Newman was able to do last year."

What four drivers will make the final round at Homestead?

McReynolds: “It will be two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, one Team Penske driver and Kevin Harvick. You can take the seven drivers amongst Harvick, the two Penske and four JGR drivers, throw their names into a hat and draw one, and that’s as good a guess as I can make now as to who will win the championship."

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