It's money making time for NASCAR. The field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is almost set. The September 4th race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway means there are just two races left before the cutoff line to make the chase.
The racers will head to the Richmond International Raceway next weekend and then begin the Chase at the Chicagoland Speedway on September, 18th.
Kyle Busch seems primed to give Jimmie Johnson a run at the title this year. Johnson has won the last five Sprint Championships. Meanwhile Busch has spent the majority of those five seasons filling his resume with wins, but not with consistent performances.
This year Busch is doing both. He is currently tied with Johnson for the points lead. This is setting up to be a very exciting close to the 2011 season. Check this slider often as we will update it regularly from now until a champion is crowned.
There is one race left, and it is essentially winner take all for Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Edwards leads Stewart by a slim three points. Each finishing position is worth five points.
So, barring one of the drivers getting bonus points that the other does not—from either leading a lap or leading the most laps—the person that finishes closest to the front will win the championship.
And the way these two have been running they are both likely to finish near or at the top. Last week Edwards was second and Stewart first.
All other drivers have been eliminated from contention.
Enjoy this race, fans. This is the kind of big finish that NASCAR was hoping for since they went to the 10-race Chase for the Cup format.
This was supposed to be a different Chase for the Sprint for Kyle Busch. During the course of the season he had shown that he had matured as a driver, and he had gained the consistency needed to win a championship.
Apparently that maturity was a mirage. Busch's quest to win the championship is now all but over. Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in the trucks race at Texas Motor Speedway, and he has been suspended from all of the weekends races.
NASCAR president Mike Helton, as quoted by Terry Blount on ESPN.com:
"After a good deal conversation and discussion, NASCAR decided to maintain the parked position for the balance of the weekend. Kyle will not be participating today [Saturday] and tomorrow in Texas."
Busch entered the weekend eighth in the standings—58 points behind leader Carl Edwards. There are just two races after Texas, and it is now officially time for Busch to start planning for next season.
Tony Stewart did just enough to qualify for the Chase, and then put the pedal to the metal. Two races into the Sprint Chase for the Cup, and Tony Stewart has two victories.
He had zero in all the races leading up to it.
He is on a tear, and now sits alone in first place. Stewart started the chase 12 points behind Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. He now has a seven point advantage over Harvick, who finished 12th.
Only two other drivers are within 20 points of Stewart.
Brad Keselowski is 11 points behind and Carl Edwards is 15 back. Five time defending champion Jimmie Johnson is in 10th 29 points back.
Obviously, this race is far from over, but the way Tony Stewart is running he is going to be tough to catch.
For the second straight week, fuel again factored into the finish. This time it was Clint Bowyer who ran out. Bowyer was in the lead with two laps to go when his tank ran dry.
The Geico 400 turned into a gas mileage game. Some did not play this game well. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch were among a handful of leaders that ran out of go juice on the last lap and fell back into the pack.
Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick had no such problems. They finished first and second, and likely would have even if no one ran out of gas. That gave Harvick the lead all by himself in the Cup standings. He has a seven point lead on Tony Stewart, who jumped from ninth to second with his strong showing.
The gas problems did allow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to move up a few spots in the order, and he came in a very strong third. He moved from 10th to fifth in the standings.
|1st Kevin Harvick||0|
|2nd Tony Stewart||-7|
|3rd Carl Edwards||-10|
|4th Kurt Bush||-11|
|5th Dale Earnhardt Jr.||-13|
|6th Ryan Newman||-14|
|6th Brad Keselowski||-14|
|8th Jimmie Johnson||-16|
|9th Kyle Busch||-19|
|10th Matt Kenseth||-24|
|11th Jeff Gordon||-25|
|12th Denny Hamlin||-41|
Jeff Gordon is running as good as he ever has in his amazing career, and he appears to be peaking at the right time.
Gordon's season got started off to a fairly pedestrian start. He was solid but not spectacular. He then hit a mid-season slump. In a five race stretch from May 30th to April 29th, Gordon finished no higher than 12th and as low as 39th.
Then everything began to click for Gordon. In the 14 races since that slump Gordon has finished out of the top 10 only four times. That stretch has included six top three finishes. He also notched two victories. His lowest finish in that stretch is 17th.
Gordon begins the Chase in third place. That leaves him just three points behind Kyle Busch and his teammate and 5-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson.
Gordon is ready to wrestle the title from Johnson at tie him with five Cup championships.
Despite having missed out on the Sprint Chase for the Cup field the previous two seasons, and not winning a race in three years, Earnhardt Jr. got a five-year extension from NASCARs most powerful team.
This is largely because Jr. remains one of the sports most lucrative drivers. Fans love Jr. and the money follows. He is also turning in a more solid performance this season.
He is currently 9th, and has an 18-point lead on Tony Stewart. Earnhardt Jr. struggled and plummeted down the standings after a strong start.
However, he seems to be righting the ship again and has a great shot to make the field. He will have to keep improving if he wants to make some noise once he gets there though.
Tony Stewart has yet to find any sustained success this season. He is currently 10th place and is in real jeopardy of missing out on the Chase.
He is just 21 points ahead of the hard charging Brad Keselowski and with zero victories on the season the wild card is not an option for Stewart.
Smoke will either have to make up 18 points on Earnhardt Jr. and pass him, or somehow manage to hold off Keselowski if he wants to make the Chase.
Brad Keselowski broke his ankle and it was the best thing that ever happened to his racing career. He has been on an absolute tear, and it has led him from being way out of the Chase to being just one of two drivers that have already locked up a Chase spot.
Keselowski is in 11th in the standings, but his three wins is enough to guarantee him at least a wild card position. He is not going to be content just making the field.
Keselowski's late run of dominance is unmatched. If he can keep this up, he will run away with the championship.
There has never been any doubting Busch's talent. He is consistently right among the leaders in Sprint Series victories. However, he has not been able to translate that success into Chase Cup success. This year may be different.
Busch has matured as a driver. He has grown more patient and it has led to far greater consistency. Busch is still getting his wins. He leads all drivers with four. He just isn't sacrificing his consistency to get them.
This strategy will pay big dividends for Busch in the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson quietly sits tied atop the point standings and is ready for a crazy and unprecedented sixth straight championship.
Johnson hasn't been dominant at any point this season. He has just been really good the whole season. That is the Jimmie Johnson way. Year after year it seems like there are drivers ready to unseat this amazing champion, but he turns them away each year with a dominant finish to the season.
There is nothing to suggest this season will be any different.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are currently tied atop the Sprint Cup standings.
Both men have 2,012 points with four wins this year. Harvick edges out Busch with six more finishes inside the top five, but all that matters is that Kyle is breathing down Kevin's neck.
Busch is so close he can feel the hairs standing up on Harvick's neck. Neither man can afford to let up an inch in the next race, especially with Jeff Gordon lurking in the shadows in third place.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup is sure to be one of the most exciting events of the year!
Kevin Harvick is in the driver's seat, figuratively and literally, in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
He currently sits atop the standings all by his lonesome self. Tony Stewart trails by seven points. Seven points won't be enough to keep his rivals off his tail, but he certainly controls his own destiny.
Harvick has been phenomenal this season with four wins, which is tied for the lead with Kyle Busch. He also has eight top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes. Needless to say, Harvick has been the definition of consistency this season.
The Sprint Cup is his to lose right now and he shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever.