Four more drivers cleared the two toughest hurdles for entry into the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, joining Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski, both of whom locked up a spot on the Chase Grid July 13 at New Hampshire.
At Indianapolis last Sunday, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano all either scored a second win (Gordon) or clinched a top 30 points spot (Johnson, Edwards and Logano). Now, those six drivers need only to attempt to qualify for the remaining six races to “officially” earn a spot in the Chase.
As a reminder, any driver with multiple wins guarantees himself a spot in the top 15 (or top 16, if the points leader after race No. 26 has a win). Any driver who left Indy with a 289-point lead on 31st place clinched spot in the top 30.
This weekend, the series shifts to Pocono Raceway, where four more drivers have a chance to clinch a spot in the Chase. The magic number is 241 – any driver 241 points ahead of 31st place clinches a top 30 position. If a driver does that and has multiple wins, he clinches a postseason berth.
Those who can do it at the Long Pond, Pa., track: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola. Harvick’s two wins mean he needs only to clinch a top 30 spot—an almost certainty—and will get there if he can score eight points (and that’s if 31st place David Gilliland wins and leads the most laps). Busch has secured a top 30 spot, but needs another win to clinch. Hamlin has yet to clinch a top 30 position. A win would guarantee that, and would give him multiple victories.
Almirola would require a victory Sunday to clinch, and get a good bit of help to also lock up a spot in the top 30.
Conversely, for the drivers still trying to make the Chase, time is running out. The driver to watch this weekend is last season’s GoBowling.com 400 winner, Kasey Kahne. A victory would catapult Kahne squarely onto the 16-driver Chase Grid while becoming the 12th different winner this season. Though he is currently on the outside looking in, Kahne’s solid runs have put him in position to “back” into the Chase Grid. With 555 points, Kahne is only four points behind Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Austin Dillon, who currently resides in the 16th spot on the Chase Grid Outlook. But, the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet driver is focused squarely on winning his way in.
“We have five more good tracks for us and six more races, so hopefully we can get a win at one of those places,” Kahne said
Meanwhile, Earnhardt has the opportunity to pull off the season sweep at the “Tricky Triangle” and become the seventh driver in premier series history to sweep both Pocono races in a single season. He would join NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison (1982) and Bill Elliott (1985), along with Tim Richmond (1986), Bobby Labonte (1999), Jimmie Johnson (2004) and Denny Hamlin (2006). Earnhardt, whose only other career track sweep came at Talladega in 2002, is currently seeded fourth in the Chase standings, but a Pocono win could possibly elevate him to the top of the Chase seeding chart.
Dash 4 Cash Gives Four Lucky Fans A Shot At $100,000
The popular Dash 4 Cash program from Nationwide Insurance reaches its fourth and final round of competition in the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland this weekend at Iowa Speedway. While the first three rounds have packed excitement into the series for the drivers to win the bonus money, this last installment provides an opportunity for a driver and a fan to each win $100,000.
Four NASCAR Nationwide Series championship contenders are eligible to compete for the extra purse—Ty Dillon (who banked the $100,000 bonus in the third D4C race at Indianapolis last Saturday),Trevor Bayne, Brian Scott and Regan Smith. Each driver will be randomly paired with four sweepstakes winners Saturday morning for a chance at the money: Kathy Coffman (Gonzales, La.), Patricia Martens (Danville, Calif.), James Dennis (Henry, Ill.) and Patricia Cochran (Houston). If their driver wins the Dash 4 Cash, they will be awarded a $100,000 bonus as well. The four fans will also serve as honorary team members during the race.
Blaney Leads Truck Series To The Pocono Mountains
For the first time in his career, Ryan Blaney has taken over the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship standings lead from defending champion Matt Crafton.
With a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes, Blaney has worked his way from ninth to first in points, beginning with a runner-up finish at Dover in May. Now, holding a slim four-point lead over Crafton and momentum on his side, Blaney, the defending race winner, looks to extend his lead Saturday. Although the Brad Keselowski Racing driver has yet to find Victory Lane in 2014, a win would further solidify him as a championship contender and give him two wins in as many starts at Pocono to become the first repeat winner there.
Blaney and the rest of the series will have to plan for an extended show, as the NCWTS race is scheduled for 150 miles instead of its previous 125. The extra mileage won’t be too much of an added burden to the drivers’ stamina; three of the last four races have ended with a green/white/checkered finish (2010, 2011, 2013), extending the races passed their scheduled distances.
The longest previous NCWTS race at Pocono was in 2010 when Elliott Sadler won a 55 lap, 137.5-mile event. Sadler is one of four different winners in four races at the “Tricky Triangle.”