NASCAR

Hendrick master of wild-card spots

How did Jeff Gordon win Pocono? Watch and see
How did Jeff Gordon win Pocono? Watch and see
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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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With Jeff Gordon’s win at Pocono Raceway, we now have a serious five-race battle for the two NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup wild-card transfer spots.

After Gordon moved into the second wild-card position Sunday, he reiterated: “Don’t count us out.”

That’s what Denny Hamlin had forewarned at New Hampshire in July after Kasey Kahne’s victory and Gordon's sixth-place finish. Hamlin wasn’t taking either team for granted until both were mathematically eliminated.

“When you have potent teams like that, driver/crew chief relationships like they have over there, you never count them out,” Hamlin said July 15. “It all works in cycles. Bad luck is what those guys had at the beginning of the year.

“Look at (New Hampshire), the fortune turned around and went in their favor. All this luck that people talk about, it all works itself out in the end.”

Now, Gordon is 13th in the points standings — his best of the 2012 season. Although Gordon capitalized on Jimmie Johnson’s misfortune at Pocono — Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet cut a tire and he lost control on the final restart — he still does not believe in racing luck.

“We were in sixth position because we drove up through there with a strong race car,” Gordon said. “We had good pit stops. I got a good restart. Jimmie got loose, him racing. I don't believe that's luck, good luck or bad luck. I don't think it was bad luck on Jimmie's part. The car got loose. I don't think it was good luck on our part. We were in the right place at the right time. Some people might call that luck. I call that, you know, a hard day's work of getting into that position for something to go your way and go right.

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“Listen, that kind of stuff happens in racing all the time. Might not be as blunt as that one was, but through every race, some sequence of events has to happen for you, and sometimes that means bad things for others and good things for you, good fortune, bad fortune. I still don't look at that as a luck situation.

“And (Sunday) was the first time I didn't have a good-luck charm in the car. I've had fans sending me stuff. My wife has given me things, my daughter. You can imagine. (Sunday) was the first day we didn't have something in there. That just tells you: Just work hard, you win as a team.”

Yes, it will take teamwork in the final five races before the Chase for Gordon to maintain his position. But when it comes to experience, there’s no one who can hold the four-time champ's helmet.

Currently Gordon is 11 points behind Kahne with the winless Carl Edwards sandwiched in between. Edwards, who trails Kahne by three points, will have to win a race and run ahead of Gordon in the next five races to make the Chase.

While he has no wins at Watkins Glen, site of this weekend's race, Edwards' average finish of 8.7 on the road course is third best behind Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart. And he will be reviving his Nationwide Series career Saturday at the Glen. But his best shot at a win will be at Michigan, Atlanta or Richmond, tracks where he’s posted seven of his 19 career victories.

Ryan Newman is currently tied with Gordon in points, but of the next five racetracks, he has wins at only Michigan and Richmond. Newman’s sole win of the season came at Martinsville, where the series won’t return until fall.

While the Hendrick cars appear to have an technological advantage right now, it’s not clear whether those benefits have been shared with Stewart-Haas Racing. But if a Chase berth comes down to Newman, Kahne and Gordon, guess who will be the odd man out?

Kyle Busch appeared to be on a comeback at the Brickyard after a second-place finish, but rotor issues led to a blown tire on Sunday and caused his No. 18 team to take a huge hit in the points, dropping from 11th to 15th in the standings. Like Gordon, Busch is the only driver in the wild-card standings with a win this season and career victories at each of the next five tracks — 12 victories to be precise.

Joey Logano is the final wild-card driver with one win. However, with all of the contract drama and uncertainty for 2013 surrounding Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing must concentrate on righting the No. 18 team of Busch, which would have a better shot in the Chase.

Here are 10 other storylines to watch over the coming week:

1. Lessons learned

First, our sympathies to the families and friends affected by Sunday's tragedy at Pocono Raceway. While I was not at Pocono, there have been many times when emergency situations have developed at tracks and the need for shelter became immediate. As recently as Indy and Kentucky, severe weather changed the course of the events. But Sunday’s situation should serve as a wake-up call to NASCAR and all of its racetracks to have evacuation plans in place for the future.

2. Kligerman and Keselowski part

Parker Kligerman’s handshake deal ended with team owner Brad Keselowski on Saturday after the driver’s seventh-place finish in the Truck race. Kligerman said by phone on Monday, “We’ll end up somewhere more competitive and win a championship.” Kligerman expects to have a new deal inked by Tuesday and remains under contract to Penske Racing.

3. Dale's donation

Dale Earnhardt Jr. having to jack up an ailing No. 88 Chevrolet in the Pocono garage didn’t make the highlight reels Sunday, but that’s not why the driver jumped in. He understands the importance of being part of a team. And with the points lead on the line, Junior did what he felt was necessary to help his team. Although the race didn’t unfold as the driver wanted — he finished a season-low 32nd — Junior’s take-action stance spoke volumes to the team moving forward.

4. Your name here

Penske Racing certainly has a short list when it comes to potential candidates to drive the No. 22 Ford next season. The names bantered about include current driver Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers. But as we’ve said in the past, it will likely take a bigger name to keep Shell/Pennzoil happy. One NASCAR star’s name that has hit the rumor mill is Carl Edwards. However, Roush Fenway Racing insists the driver remains under a multiyear contract. Stay tuned.

5. Dodge ball

It’s curious that Dodge’s SRT motorsports plans with Grand-Am and Global RallyCross are starting to leak out before the 2013 NASCAR program. Yes, Furniture Row has been a candidate for a while, but nothing has been inked. Yes, Kurt Busch would be a likely candidate — and is still a Dodge favorite — but the former champion has other irons in the fire should the deal not come to fruition. With a new car model for 2013, Dodge has time to get in the game. But it will be difficult with limited time, a limited budget and a limited number of teams to do the heavy lifting.

6. Doesn't get better than free

Looking for an opportunity to take your kids to a racetrack? Martinsville Speedway will open the grandstands for fans on Tuesday and Wednesday during the Goodyear tire test, which will feature the new 2013 cars and Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr.

7. In other news

The official announcement regarding Matt Kenseth’s 2013 plans should be coming in the next couple of weeks. So if the tea leaves are correct and Kenseth is driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the next question becomes: Who will be his crew chief? Just wondering if a Kenseth-Robbie Reiser reunion could be on the horizon? Considering the success this pair enjoyed in what was the Busch Series as well as Cup, it’s unlikely Kenseth could find a better partner for him move. But considering Reiser has been there and done that, chances are he would be much happier in his current role, general manager at Roush Fenway Racing.

POLL

  • Who will snare final wild-card spot?
    • Kyle Busch
    • Jeff Gordon
    • Joey Logano
    • Ryan Newman
    • Someone else

8. Generation Next

Stand-alone Nationwide Series races generally offer young guns the opportunity to show their stuff. That was certainly the case at Iowa Speedway on Saturday. Darrell Wallace Jr., 18, posted his second top-10 finish in two starts driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Brett Moffitt, who turns 20 on Tuesday, finished ninth in his Nationwide Series debut. And in his Penske Racing coming-out party, Ryan Blaney, 18, scored his second top-10 finish in five Nationwide starts.

9. That girl

No, she isn’t recognized by a single name yet, but let’s offer a shoutout to Johanna Long. The 20-year-old, who is running a limited schedule on a limited budget, posted her second top-15 finish in the past four races for team owner Mary Louise Miller. At Iowa, she finished ahead of Brendan Gaughan, Austin Dillon, Joe Nemechek and Kurt Busch. Long has competed in 14 of 20 Nationwide events this season and stands 17th in the points.

10. Finally, going for gold

Dave Despain has entertained some unusual guests on "Wind Tunnel" over the years, but Olympian swimmer Tyler Clary seemed like a push on Sunday. That is until Clary lit up brighter than his gold medal as he spoke of working as a race mechanic and crew man in California before he began training in earnest for London.

So what’s next for Clary? He told Despain his goal is to transition out of the pool and behind the wheel.

“I want to take a serious shot at being a professional race car driver after swimming’s over,” Clary said. “It’s funny because when you initially tell people that, you get laughs, complete surprise, but I know that this is something I could be really good at and, like I said, I want to take a serious shot at it.”

Although Clary has been involved in different areas of motorsports — including manning a merchandise booth at Auto Club Speedway — the 23-year-old Riverside, Calif., native says he’d ultimately like an opportunity in Formula One.

“But I’m the type of guy that’s . . . just get me in a car and I’ll be happy,” Clary added. “If it’s an IndyCar, a rally car, a stock car, off-road racing would be amazing, too. Any of that stuff. I just really have a passion for auto racing and I really want to drive.”

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joe Nemechek, Joey Logano, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman

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