A. J. Allmendinger became the 12th Sprint Cup driver to visit victory lane this season and in the process left only four unclaimed spots for the Chase that will eventually crown this season’s titleholder. Those remaining spots are now occupied by drivers according to where they stand in the point standings.
Just having a good year in the points will not guarantee a driver the opportunity to move into the championship round as several of the drivers that are locked into the Chase are not having a great year as far as the point standings go. Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and A. J. Allmendinger are all secure in the spot in the Chase, but all four drivers are 20th or worse in the point standings.
Those winning drivers that are so far down in the point standings knock out those drivers that are having a good year in the points but still have not posted a win. Greg Biffle sits 12th in the points, but if the Chase began this weekend he would be the first driver out as there are four drivers higher in the points without a win. Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer are all inside the top 11 in points and would advance to the Chase round, but with four races remaining there are three drivers within 18 points of taking over the final Chase transfer spot.
Biffle trails Bowyer by eight points followed by Kasey Kahne who is 12 points back and rookie Austin Dillon is still within striking distance as he is only 18 points from finding himself in the Chase. The surest way for any of these drivers to secure their spot in the Chase is by winning one of the remaining races at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond.
Winning will be on the mind of these drivers and teams as they unload at each of the final four races, but they are in a very diffi cult spot. Even though they want the win, they must also keep an eye on the point standings. Drivers and crew chiefs that have already won a race this season don’t hide the fact that they go for the win at each stop on the schedule and by being locked into the Chase they are able to gamble more with their strategy without having to consider what kind of points day they will have.
Those drivers and crew chiefs still in the hunt for one of the spots in the championship round will now focus on racing each other instead of worrying about the entire field. Those teams will actually have their own race within a race because if you are not running well enough to win then it becomes all about gaining as many points as you can on those drivers you are competing with for a Chase spot.
The schedule couldn’t be better for any team still trying to drive its way into Chase as the four remaining tracks all offer something different. Michigan is a superspeedway that oftentimes comes down to a fuel mileage race that puts the pressure squarely on the crew chief and his pit strategy. Bristol’s half-mile bullring of a track provides for plenty of banging and rubbing that can make the winner more of a survivor than the driver with the best car.
Atlanta is the fastest of the mileand a-half tracks on the schedule that will make track position so important. A driver will need a good handling racecar and pit stops that allows him to maintain or even pick up a few positions every time he comes on to pit road. That leaves the final stop at Richmond, and even though its three-quarter-of-a-mile track is considered a short track, it races more like a speedway. Qualifying ‘good’ translates in a good pit stall that can help a driver with track position in the closing laps.
These next four races will be like a season of its own for those drivers still trying to drive their way into the championship round. NASCAR’s overhaul of the Chase rules has achieved its intent as this late in the regular season we still have so many teams in contention for the title.
Event: Pure Michigan 400
Track: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile D-shaped oval, 18 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: August 17, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Joey Logano