The takeaway from last week’s column was: It really didn’t matter if Martin Truex Jr. made it to the winner’s circle because his performance should ensure him a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
Well, that is a moot point now.
While not quite the same feeling as watching American Pharoah cross the stripe, it was pretty cool to see Truex get his first win of the season and qualify for the Chase. Though I am not generally one to pick favorites, it was impossible not to pull (if even just a little bit) for a driver who has been so close to victory and watched it slip away so many times. But will the win silence the naysayers and haters?
The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team didn’t really need the win to prove the entire organization has turned a major corner in the sport. Some of the credit should be given to Kurt Busch, who helped push speed forward from a champion’s perspective, but Truex and his crew chief, Cole Pearn, took it to the next level and will now compete for the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Looking back over the day, let’s forget about the No. 78 struggles and shortcomings for a second. One of the best sights at Pocono Raceway was seeing cancer survivor and Truex’s girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, celebrating in Victory Lane.
With Truex now qualified for the Chase, who is the next driver on the block to get a win or to have a legitimate shot at qualifying based on performance? That question was asked of me last week during my appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” and I’ve given it a little more thought.
As it stands, the drivers in the top 16 without a win are Jamie McMurray (seventh), Kasey Kahne (eighth), Jeff Gordon (10th), Paul Menard (11th), Aric Almirola (14th) and Ryan Newman (15th). Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are 17th and 18th, respectively, and either of them could get on a roll and move up in the points.
One of these guys will probably get a win over the next 12 races so, again, it is difficult to look at the overall list and not take that into consideration. Will Almirola pull off another surprise victory at Daytona International Speedway? Probably not. Newman has proven, much to the dismay of the NASCAR purists, he can make it to the final round of the Chase with consistency although there is a different vibe within the No. 31 team this year.
That leaves Kahne and Gordon as the two favorites to get in the Chase on wins – one based on experience and one based on the fact that he has consistently pulled off clutch victories.
You also can’t leave out the possibility of Kyle Busch finding his way into Victory Lane and moving into the top 30 in points. It’s a no-brainer that, without a broken right ankle and crushed fractured left foot, he’d be higher in the points and possibly even have a win.
If someone were looking for a dark horse, Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick would be interesting longshots. Patrick is 46 points behind Newman, the last driver in the postseason on points and Larson is 41 out. Making the Chase for Patrick would be a big boost because she is in the final year of her contract at Stewart-Haas Racing, but that would also bring out all of the black helicopter people claiming NASCAR is rigged. Most likely, Larson would already be inside the top 16 had he not had to sit out a race due to illness.
Being as I am always one to take a chance on the long-shot, if I were in Las Vegas, I would put $10 on Patrick making the first round of the Chase for the Championship. Remember, anything is possible but it would take the stars being in perfect alignment for it to work out. Surely, stranger things have happened – like a horse winning the Triple Crown for the first time in 37 years.
Another non-winner to make the Chase is probably Bowyer or Almirola, which means Gordon and Kahne will likely find themselves in Victory Lane over the next few weeks. Perhaps, there is a different view out there and, if so, feel free to share it.
P.S. – The offer still stands for anyone wanting to provide realistic ideas about what would make racing better in your opinion. You post the comments and I will explore why those ideas will or won’t work in today’s NASCAR.