When looking at the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, one of the first things to jump out is that the month of August plays host to five races. June also has five race dates, but the August stretch of the Cup schedule is so close to the Chase cutoff that you catch yourself counting points while the race is still in progress. Pocono kicked off the first event of the back-to-school month and with it we saw a lot of movement in the point standings.
Carl Edwards’s win moved him up two spots to third and more importantly gave him another 10 bonus points to begin with when the Chase starts. (A Cup win awards a driver 10 bonus points to start the Chase) Those points are becoming more important with each passing race as points leader Kyle Busch has seven wins on the season worth an extra 70 points when the Chase begins. Edwards’s bonus point total will not reflect his win total as he was penalized bonus points from one race earlier in the season.
Denny Hamlin took the biggest hits in the standings after his 23rd place finish at Pocono. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell two spots to 10th and is now only 46 points from falling out of the top 12 which guarantees a spot in the Chase after the September Richmond race. Hamlin is not the only driver now in danger of falling out of the top 12; a couple of Richard Childress drivers now find themselves having to race for every position on the track as well as staying out during a caution just to pick up the five bonus points for leading a lap.
Kevin Harvick gained two spots after Pocono with his fourth place finish to move into the 11th spot, but his slim 19-point lead over Matt Kenseth in the 13th position leaves him no breathing room and puts him in a position of having to compete for every spot on the racetrack. His teammate Clint Bowyer is in the final spot in the Chase and will race next week at Watkins Glen knowing that his lead over Kenseth is an even slimmer 11 points.
Following Kenseth in the standings is fellow Roush- Fenway driver David Reagan who is on the outside of the Chase by only 46 points and is one of the hottest drivers on the circuit with three top-10 finishes in the last four races. Both Kenseth and Reagan can’t afford one bad race during the next five races but the list of drivers they are chasing doesn’t end with Hamlin, Harvick and Bowyer.
Kasey Kahne moved up a couple spots to seventh after Pocono but still finds himself only 91 points from falling out of the top 12. He is joined on this hot seat by eighth-place Greg Biffle who is 88 points from falling out and ninth place Tony Stewart who has only a 68-point margin from being on the outside looking in.
While the top six drivers appear safe in making the Chase, you can see the last half of the Chase fields is still up for grabs and the next race on the schedule could go a long way in deciding which drivers make the final cut. Watkins Glen is one of only two road course tracks on the Cup schedule, which makes it more difficult for those drivers that have very little experience with having to make rare right-hand turns during a race.
When looking at the results of last year’s race at the Glen, teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin finished 1-2 which will have them looking forward to unloading this weekend at the New York track. Greg Biffle is the only other driver locked in the battle for one of the remaining Chase spots to finish in the top 10 last season as he finished 10th.
This week the battle for points will actually begin during qualifying. Passing on a road course can be extremely tough, which will put a lot of pressure on both teams and drivers when it comes time to qualify. A good starting position not only guarantees good track position it also allows the crew chief the luxury of picking one of the better pit stalls. Good pit selection usually means good track position during a race and, at least for those drivers slugging it out for one of the remaining spots in the Chase, it also means points and in August it’s all about the points!
Race Preview — Event: Centurion Boats At The Glen.
Track: Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course with 11 turns). Date: Aug. 10, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.