Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Multiple Drivers Maintain Wild Card Shots

Kahne leading Wild Card pack
Kahne, Newman, Busch, Gordon, Ambrose, Logano.

Six drivers.

Four weeks.

Two shots at a championship.

Just four races remain until the 2012 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16. Four races to make sense of what is now a maelstrom of championship possibilities, four races to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano are the current Wild Card contenders; all ranked between 11th and 20th in championship points, with at least one win to their credit. Others could join their ranks between now and the regular-season finale at Richmond in less than a month, but when it’s all over, only two will remain standing.

Kahne is the leading Wild Card contender, on the strength of two regular-season victories. Currently 40 points behind 10th-place point man Denny Hamlin, the Hendrick Motorsports driver also has a chance to remove himself from the Wild Card debate by sneaking into the Top-10 before the checkered flag falls at Richmond.

Hamlin hanging on
Behind Kahne, it’s anybody’s ballgame.

Newman, Busch, Gordon, Ambrose and Logano all own a single victory this season, with Newman presently holding the final Wild Card spot by virtue of his 13th-place standing in points. His hold on that final spot is tenuous, however, with Busch just six points behind and Gordon only 10 back. Ambrose (-44) and Logano (-57) are mathematically still in the hunt, but unlikely to climb high enough in the standings to claim a Wildcat spot, without an additional win.
The number of drivers vying for those two Wildcard berths could change in the coming weeks, as well. Carl Edwards, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray all rank between 11th and 20th in points, despite being winless on the season. A checkered flag in the next four weeks would put any (or all) of those drivers in the thick of the Wildcard battle, muddying the playoff waters even further.

If that’s not enough, Hamlin’s once-secure Top-10 spot is now anything but. He crashed his primary car during practice at Watkins Glen last weekend, then watched the engine in his backup mount go up in flames en route to an extremely ill-timed 34th-place finish. The Fed-Ex Toyota driver still has 40 points in hand over 11th-place Newman, but another poor finish in the next four weeks could put him even more squarely on the hot seat.

In the inimitable (slightly misquoted) words of the late Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Photos: Yahoo.com, NASCAR.com

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