By admin | August 21, 2011
By Richard Allen
A lot of focus right now is on the drivers racing for the two wildcard spots as the Chase for the Championship approaches. With two victories many have already conceded a playoff spot to driver Brad Keselowski. However, what has now become apparent is that the Penske Racing #2 team could very well race their way into the top-10 of the standings. If so, it would change the entire Chase wildcard dynamic.
After Sunday’s Michigan Pure 400, Keselowski has moved into the 12th position of the Sprint Cup standings. No other driver outside the top-10 has accumulated multiple wins this season so his place in the Chase seems relatively secure. But after finishes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd over the course of the last three weeks the Michigan native has moved all the way up from 23rd in the standings after the July race in New Hampshire.
While Keselowski’s wildcard status does seem secure, the real danger for other competitors that he could pose in the standings would be for him to continue on his current hot streak and race his way into the top-10. Drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart sit 9th and 10th in the standings and neither, as of now, has a Sprint Cup victory so far in 2011. That leaves each susceptible to dropping out of the championship hunt.
With 642 points Keselowski is 52 and 58 markers behind Stewart and Earnhardt respectively. The new system makes such a deficit difficult to make up over the course of only three races but should Keselowski continue to post top-3 results and one or both of those drivers experience some sort of mishap he could well work his way into the top-10 by cutoff time.
That would leave at least one of NASCAR’s top stars on the outside looking in for the playoff. And more, drivers such as Paul Menard or David Ragan could use their one win to suddenly make the Chase should Keselowski enter the top-10.
After the race on Sunday, Stewart admitted that his team is in no condition as of right now to compete for a championship. “I’ll be perfectly honest,” he began. “At this point of the deal, if we’re going to run this bad, it really doesn’t matter whether we make the Chase or not.
“We’re going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else who can actually run for a championship is going to be trying to take,” the two time champion added. “Our stuff is so bad right now that we’re wasting one of those top 12 spots right now. I don’t know what we’ve got to do to get one balanced for a day, but we haven’t figured it out yet.”
Stewart has a bit of a cushion on his pursuers, including Keselowski. And he did finish 9th in Michigan. But, one bad finish could allow those closest behind him to gain ground quickly, particularly if Keselowski keeps putting up podium finishes.
Earnhardt will likely not lose his Chase place as long as he continues to finish in the top-15 as he did on Sunday with a 14th place result. However, one finish in the 30s combined with more good runs by Keselowski or some other driver could place Junior in jeopardy of missing the playoff for a third consecutive season.
The bottom line is that Brad Keselowski is one of the hottest drivers in the sport right now. If that continues, he could throw a wrench in the wildcard standings for the Chase for the Championship playoff. And one key fact to remember is that Keselowski must make it into the top-10 before the cutoff to receive bonus points for his wins so he has every reason to keep charging. Should he keep up his current pace, Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could be displaced and someone like Paul Menard or David Ragan could be competing for the Sprint Cup.
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