By JEFF WOLFE
Here’s a look at the winners and losers when it comes to making the top-12 to reach NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, the final ten races of the season. The 11th and 12th positions will go to the drivers with the most wins who are in the top-20 in points. Here;s how things look after the third of 36 races this season.
The big gainers: The biggest names were the biggest winners in the points race Sunday. R ace winner Tony Stewart jumped from 15th to seventh, Ryan Newman jumped from 18th to 13th, and Jimmie Johnson jumped from 37th to 23rd with his second-place finish. Johnson is now 26 points behind 12th-place Kyle Busch and 36 points behind tenth-place Mark Martin.
False positive: Yes, Martin is sitting in tenth, but is only scheduled to drive 26 races this season.
Biggest losers: A late-race mechanical issue turned Brad Keselowski from a contender to win into a 32nd place finisher. That dropped him nine spots to 21st in the standings.
Race winners: Matt Kenseth (Daytona), Denny Hamlin (Phoenix), Tony Stewart (Las Vegas)
35th or bust
The top 35 drivers in the Sprint Cup are guaranteed a starting spot. The top-35 in 2011 points are locked into the first five races this season. After that, the 2012 point standings take over. So here’s a look at the cars battling for that 35th spot.
Lucky 13? The car driven by Casey Mears sits in 35th place with 41 points. Mears had another tough afternoon on Sunday, making an unscheduled stop less than ten laps into the race and never recovering. Mears brought the No. 13 home in 27th, three laps down.
Trevor’s time: Trevor Bayne finished ninth to jump the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford from 43rd to 31st. However, Bayne is only scheduled to run 17 races this season.
Here’s a rundown of who is flirting with that 35th spot, which may be good or bad news.
30) Front Row Motorsports (No. 34 – David Ragan), 6 points ahead of 36th.
t-31) Wood Brothers Racing (No. 21 – Trevor Bayne), 5 points ahead of 36th.
t-31) Phoenix Racing (No. 51 – Kurt Busch), 5 points ahead of 36th.
t-31) Penske Racing (No. 22 – A.J. Allmendinger), 5 points ahead of 36th.
t-31) Richard Childress Racing (No. 33 – Brendan Gaughan), 5 points ahead of 36th.
35) Germain Racing (No. 13 – Casey Mears), 2 points ahead of 36th.
36) BK Racing (No. 83 – Landon Cassill), 2 points behind 35th.
37) Inception Motorsports (No. 30 – David Stremme), 3 points behind 35th.
38) Front Row Motorsports (No. 26 – Josh Wise), 6 points behind 35th.