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Auto Racing by Larry Ott: How The Chase shapes up pre-Glen

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 At The Glen with many drivers hoping that their visit to the Finger Lakes will help pave their way − or perhaps, more appropriately, repave their way – to securing a spot in the season-ending Chase for The Cup.

This year’s major talking points:

• Teams are concerned about how to set up their cars following the Glen’s recent $12 million repaving of the fabled road course.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Cup Series’ most popular driver by fan vote for the last 13 seasons, will miss his fourth consecutive race while addressing concussion issues. Jeff Gordon will fill in for Earnhardt at The Glen.

Earnhardt, 41, who is winless in 2016 and has only five top-five finishes this season along with four did-not-finish results, appears unlikely to make The Chase.

During the first 26 races of this campaign, the first 16 drivers who can win at least one race and emerge 30th or better in points after the 26th race, at Richmond, will automatically make the final 16-driver, 10-race, Chase For The Cup field. If there are not 16 race winners then the non-winning drivers highest in points will complete .

Drivers are awarded three bonus points for a win and one point for leading a single race lap. A single point is also awarded for the driver who leads the most laps in a race. Bonus points can make a real difference in the standings.

Here is a look at The Chase standings heading to The Glen.

1. Brad Keselowski − Keselowski, the Cup Series 2012 champion, is tied with Kyle Busch in race wins with four. Keselowski has earned the second-most bonus points this season with 26 and has amassed nine top-five finishes. He placed seventh at The Glen last year.

2. Kyle Busch − Busch, NASCAR’s defending Cup Series champion, has backed his title defense with a monster effort, gathering four wins, a series-high 30 bonus points and the most top-fives of any driver, with 11 in 21 starts. The only fly in Busch’s ointment has been four dnf’s. Busch finished second at The Glen in 2015.

3. Carl Edwards − Edwards has had an unspectacular but steady year in his Joe Gibb Racing Toyota with a pair of wins, 13 top-10 results and 17 bonus markers. He’s also matched Kyle Busch with four dnf’s. He was strong at The Glen last August, finishing eighth.

4. Jimmie Johnson − Johnson has collected two wins early in 2016 and has added seven top-five and eight top-10 results along with 16 bonus points. He has three dnf’s. Johnson was 10th at The Glen in 2015.

5. Matt Kenseth − Kenseth had much early-season bad luck but has added two wins and nine top-10 efforts while gathering a solid 20 bonus points.

6. Kevin Harvick − Harvick led the most laps in the 90-lap affair at The Glen last year (29) and appeared headed to the win when he ran out of fuel in the last turn, handing the win to Joey Logano. Harvick has only a single win but has a Cup Series-high 17 top-10 finishes. He has 23 bonus points.

7. Kurt Busch − Busch earned a solid fifth-place finish at Watkins Glen last season. He has notched only a single win and nine bonus points in 2016 but has collected 16 top-10 results and, like Keselowski, has not suffered a single dnf .

8. Joey Logano − Logano walked away triumphant at The Glen a year ago. Logano has a win, eight top-five and 13 top-10 showings and 18 bonus points but also had had three dnf’s.

9. Martin Truex Jr. − A sentimental favorite in the Cup Series, Truex led in the early going last August at Watkins Glen, leading laps 21 to 25, and was poised for a fantastic finish before late race contact with Justin Allgaier relegated Truex to 25th. Truex has a win and nine top-10 placings with 18 bonus points. He had first dnf Monday at Pocono.

10. Denny Hamlin − Hamlin won the season-opening race, the Daytona 500, but has only five top-five results in the last 20 races while enduring three dnf’s. Hamlin’s 20-race winless streak is the longest of any of the top 12 drivers on The Chase Grid. He has 14 bonus points and struggled to 27th in 2015 at The Glen.

11. Tony Stewart − Stewart has authored the most dramatic season of any driver in Chase Grid contention. After missing the first eight races with a non-racing-related back injury, Stewart won in NASCAR’s other road course event this season, at Sonoma, Calf. That victory coupled with just four top-five, six top-10s and a paltry six bonus points adds up to 27th place. Under the qualifying format, Stewart has made The Chase.

12. Austin Dillon − First driver in current Chase Grid standings who has not posted a win in 2016. He has nine top-10 results.

13. Ryan Newman − Another lackluster season with no wins, a single top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

14. Chase Elliott − Elliott, the son of NASCAR legend “Awesome” Bill Elliott, is the only driver in this year’s Cup Series rookie class in a Chase qualifying position.

15. Jamie McMurray − McMurray is struggling with no wins and five top-10s. He has just one dnf.

16. Kyle Larson − Larson is clinging to final Chase Grid spot and has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 2016.

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