The anticipation and excitement surrounding the season-opening Daytona 500 has been replaced by early-season angst for several drivers who, coming into this season, were considered strong favorites to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and contend for the series championship. Despite the new increased emphasis on winning races, faltering at the 500 will never be easy to accept.
A total of 16 drivers will qualify for the Chase, with race winners in the season’s first 26 races getting first dibs – provided they are in the top 30 in series points after 26 events. And since there have been two times (1961 and 2003) that there have been more than 15 different winners in the first 26, the points likely will come into play.
Which means, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer are especially looking for strong Phoenix runs. Kahne came out of the 500 mired in 29th in series points; Stewart is 35th; Bowyer is 39th. Kahne had the best starting position of the three (fifth).
Kahne was involved in two accidents that caused the third and fourth cautions of the race; Stewart was hampered by a faulty fuel cell which had to be replaced 130 laps into the 200-lap race; and Bowyer had engine problems and completed only 127 laps.