There are only four races left — at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond — before the field is set to find out which drivers will have the opportunity to run for the title over the last 10 races of the season. The competition for one of the coveted 12 spots has provided plenty of excitement all season long, with at least half of the spots still up for grabs.
The series could be in for a repeat of the 2004 season when the final race leading up to the chase (at Richmond) provided the sport with the kind of racing NASCAR must have envisioned when it came up with the idea of the championship format. Jeremy Mayfield came into that race with an outside chance of making the Chase field that then just consisted of 10 drivers. Basically, he had to win the race to all but guarantee him a spot and that was exactly what the Evernham Motorsports driver went out and accomplished.
That competition will be grabbing all of the headlines over the next month of the season, but that isn’t the only championship being contested. The highly coveted manufacturer’s title is a seasonlong battle that offers the winner bragging rights for the entire year. The title has been the sole property of Chevrolet for the last six consecutive seasons, and overall team Chevy can boast of having 32 championship trophies.
The point system used for the manufacturer’s title is very simple as the car winning the race picks up nine points for its brand. The second-highest finishing brand of car earns six points while the third highest collects four with the lowest finisher pocketing two points. There are no bonus points to figure in like that of the Chase drivers, so the equation for winning this title is to go out and win races.
Going into the race at Watkins Glen, Chevrolet was on top of the standings with 159 points, thanks in part to 11 race wins. Toyota was in second with 117 points and six wins followed by Ford in third with 96 points and two wins. Dodge with 90 points sits in last place with two wins.
Chevrolet is enjoying its lead in the standings thanks in part to the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing, which is partly owned by Tony Stewart. Stewart’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season was well documented, but the level of success his two-car operation has enjoyed this season was not expected. Stewart sits on top of the standings with a very comfortable points lead at this time, and after his win Monday at Watkins Glen he already has three wins for Chevrolet.
His teammate Ryan Newman is battling for one of the final transfer spots into the Chase and has proven he is a strong threat to join his owner in victory lane before the season is over.
Chevrolet’s efforts have also benefited from the arrival of Mark Martin at Hendrick Motorsports this season. Martin had been driving part time the last couple of seasons before owner Rick Hendrick gave him another chance to run for the championship that has eluded him over his Hall of Fametype of career. Mark has taken full advantage of driving for what has to be considered the best organization in all of Sprint Cup racing. He has posted four wins and is in the battle as one of the cars near the bubble of falling out of the Chase field.
Joining Martin in the field for the Chase at this time are fellow Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Combine those three drivers with Stewart and Newman and you have to like the chances of Chevrolet not only winning the manufacturer’s title, but also its chances of seeing one of its drivers win the Chase.
PIT NOTES: NASCAR apparently isn’t ready to give Goodyear the go-ahead to start working on a rain tire for the two Cup Series road course races at Infineon and Watkins-Glen. Goodyear had brought 600 rain tires for the Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen in case they were needed, but according to NASCAR officials there still isn’t enough research on the idea of rain tires for the heavier Cup cars at the present time.
Race Preview — Event: Carfax 400. Track: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile Dshaped oval, 18 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Aug. 16, 2:15 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Carl Edwards.