Thirteen races up, 13 left until NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set.
After Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday, here’s a look at how the 16-driver field might shape up when the regular-season concludes at Richmond, Va., in September:
With multiple victories, Johnson and defending champ and points leader Kevin Harvick are virtually assured spots in the Chase. The only way they wouldn’t make it is if they somehow finish outside the top 30 in points, and how likely is that?
Johnson has won at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas and Dover, trailing only Harvick and winless Martin Truex Jr. in the standings. Harvick’s back-to-back victories at Phoenix and Las Vegas have helped him to a 44-point lead over Truex.
Seven drivers have each won one race, the primary security blanket for making the Chase. The question for Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards is this: Can they stay inside the top 16 if seven other drivers happen to win before the Chase cutoff race at Richmond?
Work to do
Seven other drivers are inside the top 16 but don’t have victories – Truex, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman. That’s fine if the regular season ended now, but each time a new driver wins, the chances for the winless guys decrease substantially.
“We’re very conscious of the fact that we need to improve our performance, especially on the 1.5-mile tracks,” said Gordon, when asked about the possibility of making the Chase through points. “We want to win every time we go out to a race track. Our goal is to win.
“We want to be better. We don’t just want to be in the Chase. We want to be in the Chase with a chance at winning it.”
Truex, who has done just about everything but win this season, is going to be in good shape should there not be 16 different winners.
Lots of work to do
With 369 points, Newman is 16th in the standings – that’s 37 more points than Clint Bowyer, who leads the pack on the outside looking in without a win.
Drivers like Bowyer and – ranked 18th through 20th – Danica Patrick, Greg Biffle and Kyle Larson are distant in points from the Chase, but just one win away.