Two marquee drivers are heating up at the exact right time, and not a moment too soon.
Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, both well outside the top 10, are chipping away at the deficit that stands between them and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Last weekend at Charlotte, Stewart accomplished task No. 1: A top 20 spot. Wild Card Chase spots go to those drivers in standings positions 11-20 with the most wins. Stewart, with a season-best seventh-place finish at Charlotte, moved up one spot in the standings from 21st to 20th.
Possibly a far more daunting challenge for Stewart awaits: Dover. Aside from two wins – both of which came during a season sweep in 2000 – Dover has been mostly unkind to Stewart. His Driver Rating of 67.6 makes Dover his worst track in terms of the Loop Data statistic. He’s finished 20th or worse in each of the last five Dover races.
On the bright side, June’s here. And that means it’s time for Stewart to win in bunches – 41 of his 47 career victories have come after May 31.
Denny Hamlin, with his second consecutive top-five finish, moved to 24th in points and closed to within 53 points of the top 20.
Hamlin fares slightly better at Dover than Stewart, but not much. His average finish of 19.6 at Dover makes the Monster Mile his third worst track. He has two top fives there, most recently a fourth in May of 2010.