NASCAR

Battle on for coveted Chase berths

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon is still searching for Sprint Cup Series win No. 1 of 2013.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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We still have 10 races to go in NASCAR’s regular season, after which the field will be set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup when the checkered flag falls at Richmond in September. Who will get the two Wild Card spots? That battle is really shaping up. However, I think it’s going to continue to change.

I know we want to continue to use the model that at this point, being this many races out from the Chase, if you look at the last two years of this points system, nine of the top 10 have stayed in the Chase. I just am not convinced that we can use that model. I am keeping my eye on Jeff Gordon and also Joey Logano. Jeff jumped three more spots at Sonoma and now sits in the 13th spot. Joey is right behind him in 14th. They are running really well, and I could easily see both making it into the top 10.

Tony Stewart was the big loser last Sunday. He dropped out of the top 10 all the way to 15th. However, the one thing that Tony has that neither Jeff nor Joey have is a win. If Tony can’t make his way back into the top 10 by Richmond, he has that safety net of at least one win to fall back on -- which will be so valuable in who gets the Wild Card spots. Like in previous years, however, I don’t know that one win will do it. If Tony could get a second win in these next 10 races, well then he is pretty much a lock for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

I’m still looking at five drivers who are only 20 points outside the top 10. Like it has in the past, it’s going to fall back on wins. Of those five drivers, only two – Tony and Kasey Kahne – have a win. I just don’t think it’s going to be a driver outside the top 10 that’s higher in points that doesn’t have a win. With his win Sunday at Sonoma, Martin Truex Jr. is 10th, only eight points to the good, but he has a win. I look at Kyle Busch. Even with his miserable day Sunday, he’s eighth in the points, but already has two wins.

I still don’t know if we can look at these last two years and say that’s truly going to be the template or the model. But I do believe with 10 races to go, it’s going to come down to, if you want to have a Wild Card, you better have a win, essentially like it’s been the last two years.

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There’s no question one driver we need to keep an eye on is Kurt Busch. Yes, Kurt is 17th in points, but he’s only 28 points outside of the top 10. There’s just no way you can be as fast or as good as they are every single week and not win. It doesn’t matter what type of track – road courses, short tracks, mile-and-a-halves – it just doesn’t matter because they are that fast. There’s no way you can keep running that well and not get to Victory Lane.

Kurt Busch can do it. And that team can do it. Todd Berrier, the crew chief, can do it. They’ve just got to get the mistakes behind them, whether it’s a loose wheel or speeding on pit road. Whether it’s going with a setup like they did at Michigan, one that’s fast but they never put it in traffic in practice.

But you can’t run that well week in and week out and not win a race. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’s right next to it. I think on any given week, we could be talking about Kurt Busch having his first win since 2011 and Furniture Row Racing getting their second win. It’s just right there in front of them. They just have to tie it all together. When you get busted for speeding on pit road twice and go a lap down and still finish in the top five, you’ve got the right equipment and you’ve got the right driver.
 

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano

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