For Chase,10th place spot, wild cards up for grabs
By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
With two races left to run before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, things are pretty predictable at the top of the standings, but tight as can be around 10th place, and for the two wild card slots that will complete the 12-driver field.
Points leader Greg Biffle, along with second-place Jimmie Johnson and third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., clinched their Chase berths at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night.
Biffle got in despite a mediocre 19th-place run at Bristol, and Earnhardt clinched his spot with a 12th-place finish that he got after having to rally from a penalty for making a pit stop when pit road was closed.
“We worked real hard all season, and I want to thank my guys,” Earnhardt said. “They do a good job every week and give me good strategy. I made a little mistake and came down a closed pit. I don’t know what we were thinking.
“But we had a fast car … We just lost that track position and couldn’t get by some guys.”
The real contest, at Bristol and for the remaining Chase berths, was among the drivers at the bottom of the group vying for Chase berths, and that battle was scrambled by the results at Bristol.
Ryan Newman, who entered Bristol second in the wild card running, crashed due to a flat tire on Lap 189 and dropped to fourth. Jeff Gordon finished third at Bristol, but remains third in the wild card standings behind Kasey Kahne, and needs at least another victory to have a real shot at a Chase berth.
“We can’t let this get us down,” Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson said after determining that the car was too damaged to patch up and put back on the track. “We’ve seen how one race can change this whole deal on who makes the Chase. We’re not giving up. We’ll fight to the bitter end.”
Gordon said his third-place Bristol finish “keeps us still in it, because one of the other guys in the wild card didn’t win it.”
Gordon also pointed out that if Tony Stewart, who crashed at Bristol, or Denny Hamlin, who won, were to fall out of the top 10, they’d likely take the wild card slots and leave the current contender out of the 10-race championship battle.
“I think we have all been kind of watching where if Denny or Tony fall outside the top-10,” Gordon said. “We have two more good opportunities, Atlanta and Richmond, that we can definitely get wins.”
Stewart dropped to 10th in the standings after Bristol and is just 16 points ahead of Kahne in 11th. At Bristol, Kahne rallied from an early brush with the wall to finish ninth.
“I feel like we put together another great race,” Kahne said. “We ran in the top 10 with a car that was beat up. You can’t do much better than that. This team is doing a really good job.”
At one point in the race, Carl Edwards was looking like he could take advantage of Stewart’s misfortunes and move right to the edge of the top 10 despite having no wins this season. But his fuel gamble didn’t pay off and he ran dry, which led to a 22nd-place finish and saw him wind up 12th in the standings, 34 points out of the top 10.
“I made the decision to stay out, which in hindsight that was the wrong decision, because we probably would have finished better than we are right now, but I wanted a chance to win the race,” he said. “If we would have had one more caution or a couple cautions and short runs, we were up there in a position to win this thing. You don’t get those opportunities very often, so I had to take it.”