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Instant expert: The Race to the Chase

Seven races remain before the field is set for the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. Here is everything you need to know for the stretch run. The races Sunday: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Indianapolis. Aug. 5: Pennsylvania 500, Long Pond, Pa. Aug.

Seven races remain before the field is set for the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. Here is everything you need to know for the stretch run.

The races

Sunday: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Indianapolis.

Aug. 5: Pennsylvania 500, Long Pond, Pa.

Aug. 12: Centurion Boats at The Glen, Watkins Glen, N.Y.

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Aug. 19: 3M Performance 400, Brooklyn, Mich.

Aug. 25: Sharpie 500, Bristol, Tenn.

Sept. 2: Nextel Cup Series 500, Fontana, Calif.

Sept. 8: Chevy Rock & Roll 400, Richmond, Va.

The players

The top 12 drivers in the points standings through the first 26 races qualify for the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

A driver in the top seven would need to have the mother of all meltdowns to miss the Chase. Jeff Gordon, the points leader, has a 790-point lead over the 13th-place driver, Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson, seventh in points, leads Newman by 302. Fitting snugly between Gordon and Johnson are Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are next, and if they continue their history of strong finishes, they'll be fine.

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That leaves two drivers currently in the top 12 on the bubble - DEI teammates Martin Truex Jr. (11th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th). Truex is 87 points ahead of Newman, Earnhardt only 30. And lurking within striking distance behind Newman are Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

The numbers

16: Points by which defending champion Tony Stewart missed the Chase last year. He finished 18th in Race No. 26, and Kasey Kahne finished third to knock Stewart out the top 10. Stewart was in eighth after 24 races, 97 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne, who was 90 points out of 10th. The lesson: Every race, every point matters down the stretch.

24: Career victories for Jeff Gordon on the next seven tracks. Tony Stewart is next among drivers vying for a spot in the Chase with 10, and Kurt Busch has nine.

25.1: Martin Truex Jr.'s average finish at the next seven tracks, the worst among the top 15 drivers in the standings.

The predictions

The top 12 drivers in the points standings after the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be the same 12 drivers who make the Chase. So it1s time for Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch to make their moves.

Jeff Gordon will be the points leader after the first 26 races. Duh. To go further out on that sturdy limb, Gordon will go on to win his fifth championship.

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A Dodge driver will win at least one race in the final seven leading to the Chase. Toyota will continue to be winless during that stretch.

Kyle Busch will find a new home for 2008, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. will fill its driver vacancy for next season. Do you sense a coincidence here?

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