Saturday’s race at Kentucky Speedway was the halfway point on the Sprint Cup schedule that now leaves only eight races left in the regular season before the Chase field of 16 drivers will be set with the opportunity to run for the title. Brad Keselowski’s win at Kentucky was his fourth of the season as he leads 10 other drivers who have earned their way into the Chase by making a trip to victory lane.
Joining Keselowski as multiple winners on the year are Kyle Busch with three wins, followed by Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who each have two wins. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin round out the list of winners with one apiece.
The only driver that has posted a win and still has some work to do to make sure that he ends up in the Chase field is Stewart. His win at Sonoma a couple of weeks ago was only half of the equation he must complete in order to make it into the Chase. A driver also has to be in the top 30 in the point standings. After missing several races at the beginning of the season, he now sits in the 30th position.
Rookie Chase Elliott is still looking for that first win of his career, but in the process has separated himself from the rest of the field that is trying to secure a spot in the Chase based on their position in the points. Elliott has 11 top-10 finishes with six of them actually being in the top 5 that has him in eighth place in the points, which is higher than four drivers (Johnson, Kenseth, Stewart and Hamlin) who have posted wins this season. He has a 29-point lead over Ryan Newman, who is the nearest driver trying to race his way into the Chase by his position in the points.
After Newman the competition tightens for the remaining spots as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is only two points behind Newman and Austin Dillon trails by three points. Jamie McMurray trails Dillon by 21 points in 15th but he only has a 10-point cushion over the 16th place driver Trevor Bayne.
The battle for the final spots in points should go down to the last regular season race at Richmond as just behind Bayne are four drivers within 31 points of being in the top 16. Kasey Kahne (-6), Ryan Blaney (-14), Kyle Larson (-17) and A. J. Allmendinger (-31) could easily make the move into the top 16.
One bad race is all that it might take to remove one of these drivers from the competition for a Chase spot, and that doesn’t just ring true for those drivers who are on the outside looking in at this time. Those drivers who are now in must keep up the consistency that they have shown through the first half of the season to remain in the Chase field as just one bad finish could drop them out of the coveted top 16.
PIT NOTES: NASCAR used Saturday night’s race at Kentucky to use its new low-downforce aero package for the second time this season. It was also used earlier in the season at Michigan. The governing body used Kentucky last season to test a new low-downforce package with the results being one of the best races of the entire season on a mile-and-a-half track. NASCAR used last season’s Kentucky aero package as the basis for the new aero package that is being used this season. The new package has produced better racing this season and will be used throughout the Chase as NASCAR has already announced that it had no plans to change the aero package for the championship round of 10races. NASCAR will look at both the racing at Michigan and Kentucky to decide if it will use the same package to begin next season. One of the features of the package is the small spoiler on the back that is barely visible from the stands and on TV as it only stands two-and-a-half inches above the rear deck. The results of Kentucky will be harder for NASCAR to evaluate as the newly paved track and a very hard Goodyear tire made the handling of a car very difficult for the drivers.
Event: New Hampshire 301
Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058-mile oval, 12o of banking in the turns).
Date: July 17, 1:30 p.m.
Defending champion: Kyle Busch.