by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com
After NASCAR’s Sonoma road-course 16 of 36 races are in the books and 10 races remain before the final dozen contenders are set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Clint Bowyer is coming off a strong Infineon Raceway win that upped his chances to be among those who can grasp a championship.
Bowyer was already looking ahead even as he spoke during post-race media obligations about Sonoma. Daytona loomed in his mind.
“You hear us talk about the Chase, points are so valuable,” Bowyer said. “We have two of those wild-card races here almost within three weeks. Daytona coming up on the 4th, we all have our eyes on that, too, because we all know the consequences between a good run and a bad run there.”
Twelve different drivers have won a race so far in 2012 with only four winning twice. That math makes for a tight battle for a spot in the top 10 or the two wild-card spots.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson explained the scenarios.
“A race away from that cutoff, that’s kind of an area that I feel comfortable and feel like I can manage and have some points to give up towards Richmond,” Johnson said. Winning races is what everyone wants to do, really gives you a chance to have some bad days.
“The guys from 10th on back, they’re looking for wins. A few that are close to that cutoff at 10th, they have two options. I think the 24, where he’s at in points, really his only option is to win races, and he needs to win two or three of them to guarantee himself a spot in the Chase.”
Jeff Gordon has been steadily moving up from a dismal start in season 2012 that positioned him mathematically at and below his legendary No. 24. Recent consistent results have moved him from 24th to 18th often with two spots earned each race.
The new point system makes points especially precious in that it seems bad days hurt more than good days help. Jeff Gordon’s sixth place finish at Sonoma helps, but it doesn’t get him into a spot. Gordon quickly shifted his thoughts to the next race in Kentucky.
“The track is very challenging,” Gordon said. “It’s the same thing that makes it difficult to pass any race weekend – usually because it’s a one-groove race track. There are pretty severe bumps getting into turn three, so it’s hard to run side-by-side because you get really loose underneath somebody. And the pace is pretty fast – you carry good speed through the corners here. It’s just hard to get an edge on the competition.”
The contest among the two dozen teams is really the race for the big prize and any drivers can win and many have won in 2012.
Denny Hamlin described the current situation with the point standings for his team and his competitors.
“We do have those two wins to lean back on,” Hamlin said. “Our approach is going to be, we need to solidify ourselves a little bit more inside that Top-10, get a gap over 11th place in points, and then we can start being a little bit more aggressive like we were these past few weeks.
“I think that the wild card race is going to be — down to the wire. It’s going to be the last 10 laps of Richmond will decide who is going to be racing in the Chase. And so with that many cars, between tenth and 20th with one win, that’s something we have not seen with our series, yet, before.
“So the whole wildcard thing is really putting a wild element into our race for the Chase.”
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week:
List includes position moved and points behind leader.
1. (–) Matt Kenseth Leader
2. (+1) Greg Biffle (-11)
3. (-1) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-14)
4. (–) Jimmie Johnson (-25)
5. (+3) Tony Stewart (-63)
7. (+2) Clint Bowyer (-67)
8. (-3) Denny Hamlin (-73)
9. (-2) Martin Truex Jr. (-76)
11. (–) Carl Edwards (-117)
18. (+2) Jeff Gordon (-182)
20. (-2) Jamie McMurray (-194)
22. (-3) Juan Montoya 387 (-209)
Johnson, Stewart and Hamlin have two wins to assist their final Chase spot and Keselowski with his two wins is now 10th and 106 points off the leader. If Keselowski doesn’t hold onto to a top 10 position, he is still solid for a wild-card spot
Gordon and Edwards will need to win to be considered a candidate for the playoffs.
Hamlin, Truex, McMurray and Montoya dropped multiple spots after Sonoma. Lapped performance results in quick slips.
Truex has had a good year, but will need high performance to hold onto his spot. Hamlin remains a contender with his two wins. McMurray and Montoya continue to struggle.
The top four drivers, Kenseth, Biffle, Earnhardt and Johnson are separated by only 25 points. Stewart in fifth is 63 points off the leader. Kenseth, Biffle and Earnhardt have one win each and Johnson and Stewart have two wins each.
With only 48 points available each race, points and wins with top results are precious and necessary heading into Richmond, the last race before Chase playoffs.
Next race details available at http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.