Blog: Just six races to go before the Chase
By Paul Corliss
It’s time to start thinking seriously about NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. With six races to go until the field is set – including this weekend’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono – teams and drivers are working to lock themselves into a coveted top-12 slot.
Who’s already in? Using 2,600 points as a cutoff, it can safely be assumed that seven cars are locked into the Chase: Kevin Harvick’s No. 29, Jeff Gordon’s No. 24, Denny Hamlin’s No. 11, Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48, Kurt Busch’s No. 2, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 and Jeff Burton’s No. 31. Barring a disaster, these teams will be racing for a championship during the last 10 weeks of the season -- including Nov. 14 here in Phoenix for the Kobalt Tools 500.
Sitting just below the 2,600 point mark – at eight and ninth in the standings, respectively – are Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Both former Sprint Cup champions, it’s hard to imagine either dropping more than three spots and out of the Chase. For argument’s sake, let’s call Kenseth’s No. 17 and Stewart’s No. 14 “in” as well.
That leaves us with three swing spots at 10, 11 and 12 in the Sprint Cup standings. Currently these spots are held by Carl Edwards (2,496 points), Greg Biffle (2,462 points) and Clint Bowyer (2,446 points). All three of these drivers have competed in multiple Chases – Edwards four times, Biffle three and Bowyer twice.
Who are the contenders sitting just outside the Chase field? Six drivers – Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann – are within 250 points of Edwards, Biffle and Bowyer. Martin, Newman and Kahne were all in the 12-car field in 2010, while Earnhardt made the Chase in 2009. McMurray and Reutimann have never made the Chase.
Winner of both the Daytona 500 and last week’s Brickyard 400, McMurray said he won’t deem his season less of a success if he doesn’t end up in the Chase. In fact, he said the Chase really isn’t even a focal point for him.
“Everyone wants to make the Chase,” McMurray said. But getting to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 means more to me this year than making the Chase. This year or in 10 years, the guy that won that race one time everybody will talk about. The guy that finished third in the points, nobody cares. I would really like to be in the Chase, but I have no focus on that at all.”
Reutimann, who won his second career Sprint Cup event three weekends ago at Chicagoland, said he and the 00 team are just trying to win races.
“Our approach is not really to be concerned about the points; just go out there and race and put it all out there,” Reutimann said. “At this point you don't have anything to lose. You need to make up ground. That enables your crew chief to maybe take some chances he wouldn't normally take maybe during the race, whether it means taking two, gambling on fuel. It opens up your window.”
If any of the drivers sitting just outside the top-12 are to make a move into the Chase field, success needs to start this weekend at Pocono. Kahne won at Pocono in 2008, as did Newman in 2003. None of the six drivers mentioned as Chase contenders finished in the top 10 at Pocono earlier this year.
“You need to qualify up front and you need to finish up front, in the top 10, in the top five in order to remotely having a chance of being where you need to be,” Reutimann said. “We're going to go out there and see what we can do and try to get as many points on the board at the end of the race.”
Related PIR News
Kevin Harvick did something Sunday that no driver had ever done in the 52-year history of Phoenix International Raceway. The 39-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif. scored a victory in his fourth consecutive race in the same professional series at the legendary one-mile oval in the Arizona desert, leading 224 of 312 laps to win the CampingWorld.com 500.
Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano put on a dominating display at Phoenix International Raceway in Saturday’s AXALTA Faster. Tougher. Brighter 200, the fourth race of 2015 in the NASCAR XFINITY series.
Ruben Pardo earned his first NASCAR Mexico Series win at Phoenix International Raceway in the Toyota 120 on Friday. After starting on the pole, Pardo fell as low as 12th but fought back to the front in the late stages.
Pop music sensation Tori Kelly will perform the national anthem prior to the start of the CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, March 15, highlighting the pre-race festivities. Kelly’s performance will be included in the live national television broadcast of the race on FOX at 12:30 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m. Eastern).
Phoenix International Raceway is encouraging fans to prepare for race day traffic by arriving early and enjoying the full NASCAR experience during the CampingWorld.com 500 event weekend, March 13-15. In addition to the CampingWorld.com 500 on Sunday, March 15 at 12:30 p.m. PST, the race weekend at PIR will include the Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday, March 14 at 1 p.m. PST and the Toyota 120 NASCAR Mexico Series race on Friday, March 13 at 7 p.m. PST.