Hendrick Motorsports has been the dominant organization this season in the Sprint Cup Series. Its stable of four teams campaigning Chevrolets has already notched six wins this season to go along with the three that Stewart- Haas Racing has won using HMS engines and chassis. That’s a combined nine wins in the first 17 races of the 36-race Cup schedule.
Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sit onetwo in the Chase championship points standings with teammate Jeff Gordon in seventh, further supporting the claim that it has been the dominating organization during the first half of the Cup season. There is no denying its dominance as the schedule moves into the hot summer months, but it appears Ford has started to narrow the gap between the two manufacturers.
Roush-Fenway Racing has carried the torch for the Blue Oval teams for years, but this season it appears that Penske Racing may have taken the lead in the Ford camp and has set its sight on winning the championship. Brad Keselowski’s win Saturday night at Kentucky was his second of the season and the sixth for Ford this season. The six Ford wins ties the single season total for both the 2012 and 21013 seasons.
Keselowski’s win also was the second time this season that Ford has posted back-to-back wins in the series as Roush-Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards posted the win the previous week at Sonoma. The two also had back-to-back visits to victory lane in March as Keselowski won at Las Vegas followed by Edwards’s win at Bristol.
Joey Logano joins his Penske teammates Keselowski and Edwards with two wins this season. Logano was so strong on Saturday night that for much of the event it was a two-man race between the two Penske drives before he dropped a cylinder. He was still able to finish a respectable ninth.
The three Ford drivers are firmly entrenched in the Chase standings as Keselowski sits in third followed by Edwards in fourth and Logano in fifth. These three Ford drivers have narrowed the gap with Chevrolet that seemed to widened with every stop on the schedule as Chevy drivers at one point in the season had strung together five straight wins.
Now every manufacturer and driver that makes the Chase has the opportunity to win the title and that is why even though Toyota has not come close to matching the success of Ford and Chevrolet, it could still have a big say in the final championship standings. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are the only Toyota drivers to win a race this season and both will be in the Chase with the same chance of winning that the other 14 drivers will have.
Beginning this Saturday night at Daytona, there are only nine races remaining before the Chase field is set and it becomes more and more apparent with each checkered flag that there will not be 16 different winners this season. The Chase field will be filled according to the points and that is why we are beginning to see some drivers without a chance of winning doing all they can to accumulate as many points as they can at each stop on the schedule.
Points are hard to come by and that is one of the reasons why you are seeing so many different pit strategies being used during a race. Track position is just as important for a good points day as it is for a shot at the win.
This is no doubt this is the scenario that NASCAR had in mind when it announced its new Chase format before the beginning of the season. It has created for both the fans and the drivers, two races within a race. You have great competition at the front going for the win and there is plenty of side-by-side racing back in the pack between drivers trying to collect just one more point. It is the kind of action that NASCAR needed to try and bring back some of the fans that had drifted away from the sport.
Event: Coke Zero 400
Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval, 310 of banking in the turns)
Date: July 5, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson