With 10 Races Remaining, It’s Perform Or Else
It’s “go time.”
Every race, every point is important in a 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season. But the final 10 events – the Race to the Chase – beginning with Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 EDT, TNT, Performance Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio), are akin to the waning days of all professional sports campaigns.
You either perform or go home.
At stake are 10 locked-in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ positions – the top 10 in the standings following Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7 – and two Wild Card berths.
Four multiple race winners – previous NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – have established themselves as championship co-favorites but the jostling among additional contenders continues.
Ten different drivers have won during the season’s first 16 races. Seven are among the current top 10 – and eligible to receive three bonus points for each victory when the standings are reset in September.
Positions fifth through 10th are covered by 28 points. Just 14 points is the difference between 10th – and the Chase lock-in – and 14th, which currently is a Chase lock out.
Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth have led 40% of laps run in 2013 with a combined five victories. Five DNFs, however, have kept the pair from challenging triple-winner Johnson for the points lead. Johnson’s currently heads Carl Edwards by 25 points.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart is among the “out” this week although he is the current holder of a provisional Wild Card hand along with Kasey Kahne. Stewart, over the course of four races and a victory at Dover, vaulted from 21st to 10th only to be derailed by a 28th-place finish at Sonoma.
Kahne, however, is on the rebound – a sixth place at Sonoma ending a three-race run of 23rd or worse finishes.
Wild Cards are awarded to two drivers ranked 11th through 20th with the most victories. The difference between 11th and 20th is 50 points – only two markers more than can be earned in a single start.
Brad Keselowski, currently ninth in points and the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, is the Quaker State 400’s defending winner. Busch, ranked eighth, won the 1.5-mile speedway’s inaugural race in 2011. Both also will compete in the weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Feed the Children 300 and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225.
Keselowski is winless in his first season in the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford and just nine points up on 11th-place Kahne. Only one defending champion, Stewart in 2006, has failed to qualify for the post season during the Chase era that began in 2004.