It hasn’t been touched on much by the media so far this season, but there is some serious drama developing between 11th and 20th in the battle for the wild card Chase spots.
Current 10th-place driver Brad Keselowski extended his lead over 11th-place Carl Edwards to a comfortable 34 points after his win on Sunday, putting Edwards in a position where he most likely is going to have to win a race to get in.
Despite having five weeks to forget, Kyle Busch (one win) holds the first Chase spot. It gets really interesting in the battle for the second spot in The Chase. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano (each with one win) are deadlocked at 463 points apiece.
There are also two drivers lurking behind that trio. Marcos Ambrose (seven points back) and Jeff Gordon (10 points back) could easily get in Victory Lane before the playoffs begin. Both drivers have been running well and are in striking distance.
On Saturday night, another wrinkle was added to the story when Newman and Logano came together on the straightaway at Kentucky. It ruined the runs of Logano (22nd) and Clint Bowyer (16th). The drama is building. The next nine weeks are going to be interesting.
Here is who’s hot and who’s not after Kentucky.
*Jimmie Johnson* recorded his worst finish on Saturday night since he blew an engine at Talladega on May 6. He placed sixth.
It broke an unbelievable streak of six consecutive top-five finishes going back to his win at Darlington. Johnson is in this category every week for a reason: he simply has been the hottest driver in the series this season.
It appears the monkey has finally jumped off of *Jeff Gordon’s* back. Gordon couldn’t crack the top-20 in points for most of the season, but in the last three weeks his tires have stayed inflated, his engines have gone the distance and he has had plenty of fuel in the tank (Well, except for Sonoma).
Gordon is finally putting together some consistent finishes (sixth, sixth and fifth in the last three events) and as I touched on in the intro, Logano, Newman and Kahne aren’t exactly running away with the second wild card spot. Newman is barely running (see cold). Some more consistency, along with one win in the next nine races, could land Gordon in The Chase.
*A.J. Allmendinger’s* been so cold this season he has frostbite. Much like Gordon, Allmendinger is finally hitting his stride. After qualifying 17th and 16th, respectively, at Sonoma and Kentucky, the Dinger drove up into the top 10 and did something he hadn’t done all season…he stayed there.
A.J. placed ninth in both events, which isn’t groundbreaking, but it was a big step forward for this team.
Allmendinger’s shot at a Chase berth has been over since the Bush administration, but *Marcos Ambrose’s* dream is still alive. Ambrose is lurking in the shadows behind the three drivers tied for the final spot with Watkins Glen (the race he won last season) still ahead on the schedule.
Ambrose was 13th on Saturday, but he hasn’t finished worse than that since May 27 at Charlotte.
*Kevin Harvick* had already won three races by this point last year. He has only three top-five finishes this season. The No. 29 ended up 11th on Saturday night. It was the team’s third finish outside the top 10 in the last four races.
Harvick was expected to contend for a championship this season, but unless he really turns it around fast, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
*Kyle Busch* led 118 laps at Kentucky, but a mistake while leading cost him the finish he deserved. Rowdy got into the wall coming off of Turn 2 and his car wasn’t the same afterward. He held on for 10th, but he should have at least gone home with a top three.
After three weeks of bad luck (three engine failures), Busch has gotten in his own way in the last two races. A wheel-hop late in the race at Sonoma cost him a solid result and a mental mistake at Kentucky cost him another.
In honor of bringing back UPS as a primary sponsor, *Carl Edwards* drove like David Ragan on Saturday night. Brown hasn’t been doing much for any driver at Roush Fenway.
In fairness to UPS, Edwards has been sub-par no matter what sponsor has been on the No. 99, and they are forking out some big bucks to be there. At this point, it is hard to believe Edwards was one point away from winning the championship last year.
What a difference a year makes. Edwards was 20th on Saturday night and you’d have to go six races back (Charlotte) to find his last top 10. Somehow, he is still 34 points behind Keselowski for 10th, but I don’t see him getting there. He’s going to have to win a race, and he hasn’t done that in nearly 16 months.
*Ryan Newman* hasn’t cracked the top 10 in three months, and is still tied for the final Chase spot. It says something about the consistency of the other drivers fighting for that spot.
Newman drove the Tornados car like he was driving in a tornado at Kentucky. He drove into Joey Logano on the straightway, who then crashed into Clint Bowyer, ruining both of their races. Later in the event, something broke on the No. 39 and Newman shot up the track and backed into the outside wall.
Newman might be tied for the last Chase spot, but anyone with eyes knows this guy is a long shot to make the playoffs.
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