Dale Earnhardt Jr. took over the NASCAR Sprint Cup point lead after Indianapolis largely due to 15 top-10 finishes with a single win. Only Jimmie Johnson, with three wins, has matched his top 10 results. He is still 27 points behind Earnhardt with six races remaining before the Chase playoffs.
When Clint Bowyer got his win at race No.16 in Michigan, 12 different drivers had wins in NSCS. After 20 races, only 12 different drivers have wins. If the same 12 drivers rack up wins before Richmond, the contender roster won’t change much.
If, however, other drivers without wins take a few checkered flags prior to the RIR race, the competition will be very tight and make points highly prized.
Jeff Gordon has steadily moved up spots since matching his car number in position 24 a few races back. Now, he is in 15th, but in dire need of a win or two if he and team expect to make the Chase cutoff.
Kasey Kahne with two wins (No. 1 wild card spot) and Kyle Busch with one win (No.2 wild card spot) are at the lower level of the win tree, owing to crashes and equipment failure during the first 20 races of this season.
Earnhardt isn’t pounding his chest over taking the point lead. Instead, he is looking for more wins to boost his chances of achieving the NSCS crown.
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week (includes points behind and position moves):
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leader [+1]
2. Matt Kenseth (-14) [-1]
3. Greg Biffle (-22) [--]
4. Jimmie Johnson (-27) [--]
5. Denny Hamlin (-64) [--]
6. Kevin Harvick (-78) [--]
7. Martin Truex Jr. (-78) [+1]
9. Brad Keselowski (-82) [+1]
11. Kyle Busch (-143) [+2]
13. Kasey Kahne (-152) [-1]
14. Ryan Newman (-158) [--]
15. Jeff Gordon (-167) [+2]
Select Driver comments after Indianapolis reveal mood and assessment.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is pleased with his most consistent top 10 performance in years but seeks more wins.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
“All season long we've been working hard and finishing well,” Earnhardt said. “We need to win more races. If we want to win the championship, we have to. I imagine we can win a couple races in Chase. I don't know if finishing fourth or fifth is going to do it. We'll just have to see. We'd like to step it up just a little bit more."
Ryan Newman has to focus on winning as his single win and points total are not enough to give him a Chase spot at this point.
Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet)
"Every time we come to the racetrack, my goal is to win the race,” Newman said. “And that’s what my focus is each week. I’m going to the track to win and, hopefully, we can do that and we can get a spot in this Chase. I do what I have to do to try to get the best finish I can and that is each and every week, and I know crew chief Tony Gibson and the guys on the Haas Automation team are doing what they can to make that happen, too.”
Brad Keselowski has three wins to boost his playoff start and can afford to gamble during the next six races to add to his solid position. He commented on the next race at Pocono.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge)
“It’s definitely a different racetrack after the repave, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Keselowski said. “It’s very fast and very smooth, but the new asphalt took away the outside groove in Turn 3. That was always an ideal place to pass. Even though it’s not the same racetrack as last year, we are still going back as the defending winner of this event. That always provides a level of confidence for any team.”
Kyle Busch has had a serious mix of equipment failure and track misfortune to ponder this season, but he and team continue to hold on to a wild card spot. Busch spoke about going to Pocono.
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
“It was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane race track in turn three,” Busch said. “You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now it’s all grip so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore. The pavement job is great. They took out a lot of bumps --it’s only going to get worse over time, which is fine -- it makes character.”
Despite moving up another two positions, Jeff Gordon was not thrilled with results at Indianapolis. He and team need one or maybe two wins in the next six races.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)
“It’s always nice to finish in the top five but at this point in the season, “ Gordon said, “The way our season has gone with so many missed opportunities that we’ve had, I feel like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity today. We needed track position there at the end and we didn’t get it when it counted most and it cost us.”
Expect the next few NASCAR races to give decisive results. Should drivers near the top, such as Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, get wins to add to their points, the competition will go from tight to fierce.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.