CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are only two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship up for grabs headed into NASCAR’s regular-season finale at Richmond, where a first-time winner this season could snag a last-minute berth.
Kasey Kahne did it Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where his first win of the season earned him an automatic berth in the 16-driver field. Matt Kenseth, who is winless on the year, also became eligible based on points. They became the 13th and 14th drivers locked into the Chase with only Saturday night’s race in Virginia remaining.
‘‘It was just an unbelievable way to make The Chase,’’ Kahne said. ‘‘I told a couple friends, ‘I have to win. I have to win Sunday night.’ It was all that I could think about. I knew Atlanta was a better opportunity for myself to win at than Richmond.’’
There are 17 drivers who have a win-and-in shot at making the Chase at Richmond. They are: Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, and David Gilliland.
There are only four drivers who could possibly get in on points if they don’t win: Newman, Biffle, Bowyer, and Larson, and only Newman controls his own fate.
Newman can make the Chase if he finishes 41st or better, or 42d with at least one lap led, or 43d and the most laps led. If there is a new winner that is not Kenseth, Newman is guaranteed a Chase spot with a finish of 18th or better.
Biffle controls his own destiny if there is a repeat winner or Kenseth or Newman win and he finishes 22d or better. If there is a new winner that is not Kenseth or Newman, Biffle needs to score 19 more points than Newman — and stay ahead of Bowyer and Larson in the standings.
Bowyer and Larson need very big nights Saturday to overtake both Newman and Biffle.