With the ascent of Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano to the top 10, the provisional Chase Wild Card picture has changed yet again. Martin Truex Jr. (14th) and Ryan Newman (15th) hold the winning hands this week. Newman’s only top-five finish at Atlanta came in March 2004, while Truex’s only top five came in last year’s AdvoCare 500.
Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, both one-time winners in 2013, hold the Wild Card hands heading into this weekend’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. Kahne is 11th in points, eight behind Martin Truex Jr. Stewart is 15th, 20 points out of the top 10. Kahne finished second in last year’s Kentucky race while Stewart was 32nd. Among those vying for Wild Card consideration is Paul Menard, third in Wild Card standings but ranked in the top 10 after eight events this year; and Jeff Gordon, who finished second at Sonoma and trails Menard by one position and four points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
Stewart, Hamlin Clawing Toward Chase Wild Card Eligibility
Neither Tony Stewart nor Denny Hamlin won the Coca-Cola 600 but it was mission accomplished for both. Stewart finished seventh, his best performance of the season and reached 20th in the standings and Wild Card eligibility. Hamlin won the Coors Light Pole, finished fourth and closed to within 53 points of the top 20. Stewart holds two Dover wins but Hamlin has struggled at “The Monster Mile” – eight finishes outside the top 15 in 14 starts. Hamlin’s best Dover finishes are a pair of fourths.
This is “wild card” weekend to say the least. Chase qualifier or not, anyone in the 43-car field is a contender for Talladega Superspeedway’s checkered flag. Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ began in 2004, four of the eight fall Talladega winners – Dale Jarrett, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer – came from outside the Chase field. The eventual NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has never won the fall Talladega race in the Chase era.
Seven of this year’s 12 Chase qualifiers (Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon) have a ‘Dega victory. Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are still looking for one. A member of this year’s Chase field has won 10 of the past 13 races at Talladega Superspeedway.
There’s a very large asterisk, however, as Kahne has closed to within 11 points of the top 10 and the possibility the first-year Hendrick Motorsports driver can advance to the post season as a seeded Chase qualifier.
At least six different winners will battle for two “wild card” spots in the Chase over the four races remaining in the Race to the Chase. Marcos Ambrose, who won the Coors Light Pole at Michigan in June with a speed of 203.241 mph, added his name to the “wild card” derby by posting his second consecutive victory at Watkins Glen International. Kasey Kahne (11th in points) and Ryan Newman (13th) are provisional holders of the two “wild card” spots. Kahne won Michigan’s spring race in 2006. Newman is a two-time Michigan winner. Kyle Busch (14th), Jeff Gordon (15th), Ambrose (17th) and Joey Logano (18th) are remaining winners ranked 11th through 20th. Gordon has two Michigan wins; Busch one.
Who would have guessed that Carl Edwards would face the real possibility of missing the Chase heading into the waning weeks of July? That’s the situation the No. 2 finisher in last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ finds himself in following a lackluster weekend in Loudon, N.H. Edwards finished 18th – the next to final car on the lead lap – and dropped 46 points out of the top 10. The finish was his third of 18th or worse in the past four races.
How much has the No. 99 Ford team’s performance slumped? Consider that Edwards hasn’t led a lap in his most recent 10 starts. He’s led just twice in 2012 – 206 laps at Richmond where he finished 10th after a late-race restart miscommunication.
Edwards has won races at four of the tracks remaining in the Race to the Chase: Pocono, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta. His best Indianapolis finish is second in 2008. Edwards’ winless streak grew to 51 races in New Hampshire. He last won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2011.