It's getting to be that time of year again in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series -- when every single point counts in the quest to make The Chase for the Championship.

Not that every single point didn't count before now. It's just that we're getting down to the wire, with only three races left to make The Chase.

Top that off with the series heading to Bristol Motor Speedway for a race under the lights Saturday night, and you know it's going to be exciting. Or at least, you hope so.

The half-mile track in Thunder Valley has been the scene of many thrilling races, although with a wider track and the "new car," that is no longer guaranteed. What is guaranteed at Bristol is that frustration will reign for the drivers and teams as they fight to be first to the checkered flag.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers who can clinch a Chase berth this weekend. Any driver with a 391-point lead over 13th place after the race clinches a spot in the 10-race championship battle. Second-place Gordon currently leads 13th by 437 points. Johnson leads by 418. In other words, Gordon can lose 46 points and Johnson can lose 27 points to 13th place and still clinch.

If the Hendrick Motorsports teammates do clinch Chase berths this weekend, they would join points leader Tony Stewart, who clinched last weekend at Michigan.

Gordon can clinch his spot by finishing sixth or better without leading a lap, seventh leading at least one lap or eighth leading the most laps, regardless of what any other driver does.


Johnson needs to finish second or better, third leading a lap or fourth leading the most laps, to clinch.
No, I don't sit around trying to figure these numbers out all by myself. Thankfully, the folks at NASCAR provide these statistics so that I can sound like a genius despite the confusing scenarios.

And what about Kyle Busch? "Shrub" is 70 points out of 12th place, currently in 15th. But this is Bristol, baby, and both Busch and his older brother, Kurt Busch, run strong at the Tennessee track.

In fact, remember those rare snoozer races at Bristol I mentioned? Kyle was responsible for the most recent one, in March, when he led a race-high 378 laps en route to victory lane.

If Busch wins the Sharpie 500 Saturday night and leads the most laps, he will earn 195 points. That would mean drivers in positions 12-14 must finish 12th or better (127 points) to remain ahead of Busch.

Those drivers are Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer. Don't expect any of them to move over for NASCAR's favorite bad boy, especially Vickers.

In other words, look for the excitement to be back at Bristol Saturday night.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esis