After Kyle Busch's win in Indianapolis this past Sunday at the Brickyard 400, he's now won three straight, and four of the last five races. That's an amazing turnaround for somebody who missed the first 11 races of the NASCAR season with two broken legs. When he came back to racing, most people doubted he could race his way into the Chase. While his ability to win a race was never in question, getting himself high enough in the points standings was the problem.
But now it's basically a given. Busch's hot streak has put him in 32nd place, only two spots out of the top-30 cutoff. With six races to go before the Chase starts, it's almost a guarantee Busch will move up the two places he needs, given that he's now the fastest car on the track. Only a major catastrophe (like breaking his legs again) will cause him to miss out.
Busch now has a 95 percent chance of qualifying for the Chase, according to data from Andrew Maness at PitRho, a racing analytics firm.
The 16 drivers who will make the Chase are getting pretty locked in now. Consider 16th-ranked Paul Menard, with a 77 percent chance of making it. Only one driver, Clint Bowyer at 43 percent, is a real threat to crack into the top 16. He's the only driver outside the cutoff with more than a 6 percent chance of still getting in there. That means we effectively have 17 drivers competing for 16 spots, with everybody else a major wild card to get a lucky win and bounce in.
Remember the way drivers qualify into the Chase: (1) they have to be in the top 30 in points; (2) they have to win a race. If fewer than 16 drivers meet these criteria, the last few slots are given to the remaining non-winners who are highest in the points standings.
The table also shows each driver's chance of making it through the rest of the season, all the way to being the champion. Despite Kyle Busch's current 32nd place in points, once the Chase starts and the points are reset, he'll be on equal footing with everybody else. Because of his dominant performances in the past month, the model now has Busch as the third-best favorite to win the overall title, at 12 percent.
Maness' model simulated the season 100,000 times based on each driver's performance this season and in the past. Not surprisingly, Kevin Harvick has the highest chance of winning the title, at 29 percent. He was last year's champion and has been consistently strong all year, finishing in the top 10 in 90 percent of the races, including a top-2 finish in half of the races.