Ten races at 10 different tracks, all to determine the 16 drivers who will battle for one prize – the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
That’s a lot of numbers. But there’s only one point: It’s an important time right now, and for those who remain winless, it’s vital.
These next 10 races will test each driver’s versatility. A wide array awaits: 1.5 milers like this Saturday night’s race at Kentucky; a restrictor plate track (Daytona); a triangle (Pocono); a road course (Watkins Glen); a short track (Bristol); one of the most historic sporting venues in the world (Indianapolis) – and more.
With each passing day, time’s running out. So is the space remaining on this page, so let’s get to it. Storylines to watch as we head to Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway…
Jeff Gordon Is 22-for-23: And actually, he’s 23-for-24. There are 23 race tracks on the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule; Jeff Gordon has a win – or eight – at 22 of them. His only hole is Kentucky Speedway, and it’s an understandable one. The series has raced there just three times, all won by different winners. Gordon has fared fairly well in those three events, collecting three top 10s, including a fifth-place finish in 2012. If he were to win on Saturday night, he’d be the first driver in NASCAR history to win at every track on the active schedule. For the record, Gordon’s win list includes Rockingham, which hosted its last NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 2004.
Five Guys, In And Out: Of Carl Edwards’ 23 career NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, more than half (13) have come at intermediate tracks measuring 1.5 or two miles. So, it’s a tad surprising that his two victories this season have come at half-mile Bristol and the Sonoma road course. It also makes him a threat throughout the varied remainder of the regular season. He’s now one of five drivers with multiple wins, all of whom are pretty much locked in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Those drivers joining Edwards: Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. These drivers are guaranteed to be among the top 16 winners, and now need only to finish in the top 30 in points after race No. 26 and attempt to qualify for each race to officially clinch a Chase spot.
Kenseth’s Calendar Circle: If Matt Kenseth owns a paper calendar, and if he’s one of the rare few who actually circles important dates, then he just might have put a ring around Saturday, June 28. Saturday night’s race at Kentucky offers Kenseth’s next best shot at his oddly elusive first win of the 2014. He’s the defending winner there, leading 38 laps in last year’s Kentucky race. And he’s 3-for-3 in top-10s at the 1.5-mile track. Without question, Kenseth is due for some good luck. After consecutive third-place finishes at Charlotte and Dover, Kenseth has averaged a finish of 27.0. That includes last Sunday’s 42nd-place finish at Sonoma, where he was wrecked after running 74 laps. He’s now fourth in points after holding the points lead only four races ago.
Childress Heating Up: Richard Childress Racing has won back-to-back races … in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Still, its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series program has quietly enjoyed a solid season, and is coming on strong of late. Paul Menard has scored consecutive top-five finishes (a fourth at Michigan; fifth at Sonoma); Ryan Newman has finished in the top 15 in five of the last six; and Austin Dillon remains in Chase contention. In fact, if the Chase began today, both Menard and Newman would make the Chase Grid. This weekend could pose a significant challenge for the team. RCR has fielded 10 entries over the course of Kentucky’s three races, only one of which has finished in the top 10 (Kevin Harvick finished 10th last season).