Kasey Kahne’s victory at New Hampshire sure shook up the wild card race. Kahne basically assured himself a spot in the playoffs, while he put other drivers who were looking good heading into the weekend on less solid ground.
Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon are those drivers on thin ice. Newman and Logano have a very slim chance of winning another race before The Chase, and Gordon’s chances of winning twice also seem unlikely.
Kahne’s win means these drivers are no longer fighting amongst one another for the final wild card spot, but they now have to beat out Kyle Busch. Good luck. Busch has had his troubles as of late, but he is a Chaser every year and he is capable of winning at any time. No matter what happens, either Gordon or Busch isn’t going to make the playoffs and there is a possibility that neither of them qualifies.
Here is Who’s Hot and Who’s Not after New Hampshire.
After hitting a bump in the road mid-season (Pocono, Michigan, Sonoma), *Kasey Kahne* has rallied back. Kahne got second at Kentucky and seventh at Daytona before winning on Sunday at New Hampshire.
With two wins, the No. 5 team should be able to breathe a little easier in the next seven races. Kahne looks like a lock for a wild card spot in The Chase after an awful start to the season.
*Brad Keselowski* followed up his victory in the Nationwide Series on Saturday with an impressive showing in the Sprint Cup Series. He was the only finisher in the top 12 on Sunday to not qualify in the top 12. On a track that is very difficult to pass on, Keselowski drove from 22nd to fifth.
Brad has three consecutive top 10s and is showing that he isn’t relying on his wins to qualify for the Chase, but instead as bonus points once the playoffs start.
If *Jeff Gordon* started the season like he is running now, he wouldn’t have any worries about The Chase. Gordon (sixth on Sunday) has been sixth or better in four of his last five races. Unfortunately, for the No. 24 team, none of those resulted in the win they badly need.
Kahne may have dampened Gordon’s Chase chances, but Gordon is still only 21 points back of Kyle Busch, and he has been running much better than Rowdy.
*Ryan Newman’s* Earnhardt-Ganassi-like run (read cold) of 11 races without a top 10 ended at Daytona with a fifth-place showing. Apparently his confidence is soaring because he didn’t wait another 11 races to crack the top 10 again; he did it the very next week at Loudon (10th).
After winning in New Hampshire last season, Newman might have been a little disappointed with 10th, but in the grand scheme of things the run was a positive. Newman closed within nine points of Kyle Busch for the final playoff spot.
*Carl Edwards* was in a position a month ago where he needed to put together his best finishes of the season in order to qualify for The Chase. It just hasn’t happened, or even been close to happening. Edwards ran poorly all day and finished 18th on Sunday. He has three finishes of 18th or worse in his last four races.
Edwards is now 46 points behind Brad Keselowski for 10th spot, and with that margin, his best hope to catch Keselowski is to hope that he fails his next drug test, which Keselowski made clear will be unlikely.
*Aric Almirola* really surprised some folks with a sixth-place result at Dover. It seemed like Almirola was clicking with Denny Hamlin’s former crew chief, Mike Ford. However, since Dover, Almirola has been dreadful.
Four of his last six finishes are worse than 25th, and I’m not sure how that’s possible when there are only about 26 competitive teams (sorry Front Row Motorsports). Almirola was two laps down in 28th on Sunday.
Even with Mike Ford calling the shots, Almirola has been consistently outperformed by his teammate, Marcos Ambrose.
*Kyle Busch’s* crusade of self-sabotage continued at Loudon. We haven’t seen a driver sabotage himself like this since, well, A.J. Allmendinger. Busch hit a midseason slump with a string of engine failures, but has been getting in his own way ever since.
Busch wheel-hopped and spun while fighting for a top 10 at Sonoma (17th), hit the wall while leading at Kentucky (10th) and gave up the lead only to speed down pit road during a green-flag pit stop at New Hampshire (16th).
After all the stuff Busch has been through this summer, he still holds the last wild card spot, and he has to get it together at some point soon, right?
Remember in 2010 when *Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing* combined for four wins with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya? Remember in 2009 when Montoya qualified for The Chase? Those are both distant memories for EGR, which has fallen from a borderline elite organization to below average in little time.
McMurray and Montoya have gotten less TV time this season than Amber Cope, so let me fill you in how they are running. You aren’t missing much. The two drivers have combined for five top 10s this season, with each scoring only one of those in their last 15 races.
McMurray placed 20th and Montoya got 25th at New Hampshire on Sunday. Unfortunately, for Earnhardt-Ganassi that is no longer the exception, but the norm for a pair of teams on the decline.
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