Jimmie Johnson vaulted three spots to take the NASCAR Sprint Cup lead and Brad Keselowski stepped up two positions to join the elite top-five. Both have three wins so when the points are reset after Richmond they will likely occupy familiar top turf.
Fourteen different drivers have won in 22 races with four races to go until the final lap in Richmond sets the contenders for the Chase for the Sprint Cup crown.
Marcos Ambrose got a much needed and exciting win at Watkins Glen and although he will likely need another win to make the Chase, he can take heart in providing the most exciting finish in many races. Keselowski and Ambrose swapped the lead while sliding to the finish line.
Crew members for Keselowki and Ambrose exchanged high-fives, handshakes and back pats after the race—a rare occurrence for two teams competing for one win.
Ambrose explained the thrilling moments after getting the checkered flag.
“It was absolutely chaos at the end,” Ambrose said. “I burned my tires off it and I really burned off the brakes. I saw Kyle backing up to us and then brake up past me, and it was absolutely crazy at the end.
“I didn’t know Brad hit Kyle. Then I slid through the bus stop and allowed Brad to get past me, and I thought I was blowing up. I thought it was my oil, not knowing what was really going on, and it wasn’t until I saw Kyle and Brad sliding as well that I thought, ‘OK, there’s something down here on the track and we’re just gonna have to deal with it.’
“We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win and that’s the way it should be.”
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week: (Includes points behind and position moves)
1. Jimmie Johnson Leader – [+3]
2. Greg Biffle (-1) [+1]
3. Matt Kenseth (-2) [-1]
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-17) [-3]
5. Brad Keselowski (-44) [+2]
6. Martin Truex Jr. (-49) [-1]
7. Clint Bowyer (-58) [+3]
8. Tony Stewart (-61) [-2]
10. Denny Hamlin (-84) [-2]
11. Kasey Kahne (-124) [--]
13. Ryan Newman (-133) [+1]
14. Kyle Busch (-139) [+1]
The same drivers seem to be holding on to the top 10 Chase spots as events mount. Kasey Kahne with two wins has a grip on one of the wild-card positions while the other spot seems to change residents often.
Martin Truex Jr. continues to perform and maintain a position high in points even though he has no win in 2012. Clint Bowyer has leaped three up the ladder and is in good shape with his one win and four races to go.
Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have only one win, but they are at the top of leader board with few points separating them. Kyle Busch has one win, but is 139 points back from top gun Jimmie Johnson.
With four races remaining before the 10-race playoff only 192 points are possible. Those entrenched at the top are prone to add to their productive season, not giving up many potential points.
Ryan Newman. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano are all outside the top-10 with their single win. They will likely need another win to be in contention for a wild-card spot.
While 2012 NSCS may not see another exciting finish like the last lap at Watkins Glen, the close competition for playoff spots may generate many thrilling moments in the next four races.
Select Driver comments after Watkins Glen reveal mood and assessment going forward.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No.88 Chevrolet)
“I just got in the corner and made a mistake,” Earnhardt said. “That was pretty much all there was to it. I was just overdriving the car.”
Jimmie Johnson (No 48 Chevrolet)
“Excited to be leading the points,” Johnson said. “Whoever the team is, I really believe they get some much-needed experience with the pressure of the points lead late in the season. It's just different than leading at any other point in time. I look forward to the pressure on my team and myself.”
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
“I’ll add to the disbelief,” Bowyer said. “What a wild last couple laps. It kind of reminded me of the old motocross days when you had to go to the outside, inside and find some traction because the groove certainly didn’t have any traction. Pretty wild. Pretty intense last couple laps.”
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge)
How else can you sum that up?” Keselowski said. “One of them days where the world throws everything it can at you and you hope to make it through all of them. You know, I just didn't. I just missed it a little too much, trying a little too hard to get the win. That was really unfortunate, but part of racing.”
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.