NASCAR: Brad Keselowski's Pocono Victory Intensifies Wild Card Battle

Luke KrmpotichContributor IIAugust 8, 2011

LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 07:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on August 7, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Race to the Chase took on a new twist following Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway.

In a gutsy piece of racing, Brad Keselowski drove to victory despite a broken left ankle suffered last Wednesday.

It was his second Sprint Cup win this season and the third of his career.

After Keselowski's stunning victory, he and Denny Hamlin are in the best position to make the Chase as the two wild cards.

But between now and the checkered flag at Richmond in September, anything can—and probably will—happen.

Here is the current situation.

With the win, Keselowski moved up to 18th in the standings and is currently in position to claim the first wild card spot in the Chase, by virtue of his two victories. Denny Hamlin, 11th in the standings with one win, is in line to claim the second wild card spot.

The fact that Keselowski now has two victories means that the three drivers ranked between 11th and 20th with one win—Hamlin, Paul Menard are David Ragan—are competing for just one wild card spot, unless they can move into the Top 10 in the points standings or win another race before the Chase begins.

Hamlin has a decent lead over Menard and Ragan for the final wild card spot, even following a disappointing 15th-place finish at Pocono after leading the most laps of any driver.

Hamlin is 31 points ahead of Paul Menard in 14th and a whopping 62 points ahead of Ragan, who had a rough day at Pocono and fell all the way to 19th in points.

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Five races remain before the Chase field is set, and there are numerous scenarios for how the wild card race could shape up.

One possibility is that Hamlin could rise into the Top 10 in standings. Hamlin is just 23 points behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 10th place and 24 points behind Tony Stewart in 9th.

If Hamlin can pass either of those drivers (who are both winless on the year) and into the Top 10 in points, Menard would move into position for the final wild card spot.

In addition, it would boost Ragan's hopes, as he is currently only 31 points behind Menard and has a reasonable chance to catch him.

Another possibility is for Hamlin, Menard or Ragan to win one of the upcoming five races.

A second win would allow one of those drivers to make the Chase over the other drivers, even if the driver with multiple victories ranked lower in the standings.

Look for Menard and Ragan especially to be rolling the dice in upcoming weeks in an effort to snare an all-important second victory.

Yet another possible scenario is for a driver such as Clint Bowyer or Greg Biffle, both of whom are about 20 points behind Hamlin in the standings, to get a win before the Chase and simultaneously pass Hamlin in the standings.

If Bowyer or Biffle were to do that, they would make the Chase along with Keselowski and his two wins.

One final scenario is for Keselowski to have a few difficult runs and fall out of the Top 20, making him ineligible for the Chase.

This would open the door for two other drivers with one win to make the Chase as wild cards (currently, those two drivers would be Hamlin and Menard).

It's impossible to predict what will happen in the next five races.

My best guess is that Hamlin will move into the Top 10 and qualify for the Chase that way.

I think the two wild cards will be Keselowski and either Menard or Greg Biffle. Biffle has a good shot at winning in upcoming weeks, especially at Michigan.

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I'm looking forward to some great racing!