Sprint Cup Chase 2014: NASCAR Standings and Schedule After Save Mart 350

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJune 23, 2014

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 22:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Carl Edwards got to toast to his second victory of the 2014 NASCAR season on Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California.

The difficult road course saw the drivers cover a lengthy 110 laps, which takes a toll on the pit crews and thickens the plot in terms of racing strategies. NASCAR Stats noted the significance of Edwards' 23rd career Sprint Cup Series win:

But as far as the Chase for the Cup is concerned, hardly anything changed at the top of the standings.

Hendrick Motorsports may have had its string of five straight wins snapped, but it still has Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in prime position to win the stock car racing's ultimate championship. Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press alluded to the team's dominance:

Here is a look at the updated standings following an excellent race at Sonoma, along with further analysis on some of NASCAR's biggest stars and a look at the Sprint Cup schedule.

2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings
Rank Driver Points Behind Wins
1 Jeff Gordon 5801
2 Jimmie Johnson 560-203
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 555-252
4 Matt Kenseth 515-650
5 Brad Keselowski 512-681
6 Carl Edwards 509-712
7 Joey Logano 483-972
8 Ryan Newman473-1070
9 Kevin Harvick 472-1082
10 Kyle Larson 470-1111
Source: NASCAR.com


Analyzing Top Save Mart Finishers

Carl Edwards

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 22:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
Robert Reiners/Getty Images

Taking the checkered flag Sunday had to feel good for Edwards. He didn't move up at all in the standings, but he did close the gap between the top contenders in fortifying his sixth-place slot.

Roush Fenway Racing has endured a lot of adversity recently, drawing sharp criticism from FoxSports.com's Jeff Hammond prior to the Save Mart 350:

Let's face it, they need something different and they need it now -- not next week, not next month and not for the Chase -- they need it now. They are being judged by their manufacturer. They are being judged by their sponsors, their peers and obviously the fans.  So it's time to step back and take a broader and more open approach to this problem. It's the blind obvious, but something has to give because what they have now isn't working.

Edwards' win should silence a lot of the critics, and David Caraviello of NASCAR.com implied that alarmist reactions seem to be rather prominent:

Next season, there is speculation that Edwards will be switching to Joe Gibbs Racing. Regardless of whether that transpires or not, he is proving his professionalism by blocking out the attention surrounding that saga and producing results behind the wheel.

As questions persist about what Edwards' future holds, the competitor in him should only be further fueled to perform better moving forward and climb up the standings.


Jeff Gordon

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 20:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet, talks with the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 20, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Im
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

Gordon hasn't won a title since 2001, yet he continues to put together strong finishes, adding a runner-up at Sonoma Raceway. Although he can't be too pleased with finishing second, the result continued astonishing consistency for Gordon at the track:

The No. 24 car may have been destined to finish out of first after qualifying in 15th place. Gordon may very well have had the best car on Sunday, which shows how tricky it can be to be successful in NASCAR.

The fact that Gordon has maintained greatness for so many years is all the more impressive in that context. There wasn't much time as it was to make a move on Edwards at Sonoma, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:

Drawing on previous runs helped Gordon dig out of an early hole and nearly steal the race and extend his lead in the points race. In terms of the big-picture perspective, Gordon should know to emphasize the positives and the overall prowess of his team.


Dale Earnhardt Jr.

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 21, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Gett
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

A strong 2014 campaign continues for Junior, as he recorded a career-best finish at Sonoma. The seasoned driver seemed rather pleased with the outcome afterward:

Earnhardt appears to be in his element and enjoying racing as much as ever this year.

Winning the Daytona 500 will do that, but he isn't resting on his laurels by any means. That was evident in a maiden triumph at Pocono and steady performances, including Sunday's stellar run. Starting 17th wasn't going to be easy from the jump, yet Earnhardt overcame some disappointments at Sonoma in the past to drive well.

The gap between Earnhardt and Johnson has shrunk ever so slightly, and if Johnson is off his game in the upcoming race, there's a shot for Earnhardt to vault into second behind Gordon. Based on how he's running, don't be surprised if Earnhardt gets it done.

Next week sees NASCAR's best take to Sparta, Kentucky, for the Quaker State 400, where the tight Sprint Cup Chase should heat up even more.

Wouldn't it be great if Edwards won a race that's seen two Joe Gibbs Racing team members ride to Victory Lane in the past three years? Even a high finish might allow him to leapfrog both Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in the standings. There's no question that momentum is on his side.

Then again, Gordon is as experienced as anyone and is in rare form. It will be extremely difficult to knock him off his perch at the top, as he holds a sizable advantage. Another Hendrick driver in Johnson is always a threat, though Earnhardt can't be counted out either.

2014 NASCAR Schedule After Save Mart 350
Date Time Race TV Info
Saturday, June 28 7:30 p.m. ET Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts TNT
Saturday, July 5 7:30 p.m. ET Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola TNT
Sunday, July 13 1 p.m. ET Camping World RV Sales 301 TNT
Sunday, July 27 1 p.m. ET Crown Royal Presents You Hero's Name Here 400 at the Brickyard ESPN
Sunday, August 3 1 p.m. ET GoBowling.com 400 ESPN
Sunday, August 10 1 p.m. ET Cheez-It 355 at The Glen ESPN
Sunday, August 17 1 p.m. ET Pure Michigan 400 ESPN
Saturday, August 23 7:30 p.m. ET Irwin Tools Night Race ESPN
Sunday, August 31 7:30 p.m. ET NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race ESPN
Saturday, September 6 7:30 p.m. ET Federated Auto Parts 400 ABC
Sunday, September 14 2 p.m. ET NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race ESPN
Sunday, September 21 2 p.m. ET Sylvania 300 ESPN
Sunday, September 28 2 p.m. ET AAA 400 ESPN
Sunday, October 5 2 p.m. ET Hollywood Casino 400 ESPN
Saturday, October 11 7:30 p.m. ET Bank of America 500 ABC
Sunday, October 19 2 p.m. ET Geico 500 ESPN
Sunday, October 26 1:30 p.m. ET Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 ESPN
Sunday, November 2 3 p.m. ET AAA Texas 500 ESPN
Sunday, November 9 3 p.m. ET Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 ESPN
Sunday, November 16 3 p.m. ET Ford EcoBoost 400 ESPN
Source: NASCAR.com


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