Road to Richmond: Bristol
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on August 22, 2013 | 10:59 A.M. EST
Only two races remain until the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond to set the Chase field. (Photo: Getty Images)
The beauty of the race for the Chase is that it features imperfect teams trying to be perfect.
Such unpredictable outcomes jumble standings, make teams anxious and leave drivers desperate as they try to gain every possible point. The moods swing each week.
Two weeks ago, Jeff Gordon seemed to have a good shot at making the Chase after his runner-up finish at Pocono, but back-to-back disappointing finishes have dimmed those hopes. One win might not be enough to ensure he makes the Chase for an eighth consecutive year.
Joey Logano was given an outside chance to make the Chase before winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Now, he looks like he could be contending for a title after four consecutive top-10 finishes.
Kurt Busch, given little or no chance at the beginning of the season to make the Chase with Furniture Row Racing, is in the top 10 with two races to go on "The Road to Richmond," where the Chase field will be set.
Let the fun and angst continue.
Eighth through 14th in the season standings are separated by 30 points. Every driver between ninth and 23rd changed at least one spot after last weekend’s race at Michigan. The standings were more volatile two weeks ago at Watkins Glen, as every position between eighth and 17th changed at least one position and four drivers either rose or fell four spots.
Logano’s win made him the week’s biggest gainer, moving up three spots to 13th. Kurt Busch climbed two spots to ninth, putting him into position to earn an automatic spot in the Chase if he can remain in the top 10.
The challenge for Busch’s team will be pit road. He overcame slow pit stops with dazzling restarts, including one late where he went from 14th to sixth in a lap.
For him to remain a Chase contender and even a title threat, his pit crew must be better.
"To race for a championship, those guys have just got to dig deep and make it happen when it counts," crew chief Todd Berrier said.
Busch is two points behind Brad Keselowski, who sits eighth. Keselowski is only eight points ahed of 11th. Without a win this season, Keselowski could be in jeopardy of missing the Chase if he fell out of the top 10.
"I am not looking at (the) Wild Card," Keselowski said after placing 12th Sunday. "I want to make my way into the top 10."
Here’s what he and others face to make the Chase:
Brad Keselowski (8th, 667 points) - He and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano tested at Richmond on Monday and Tuesday. Wrote Keselowski on Twitter about the importance of that test: "Could make the (difference) between defending the championship."
Three top-10 finishes in the last five races has car owner Roger Penske saying he feels "good about the momentum. What we’ve got to do is execute."
Kurt Busch (9th, 665 points) - He’s winless this season like Keselowski, so if he falls out of the top 10 in points he might not earn a Wild Card. Busch also will have to deal with the distraction about reports that he has received a formal offer from Stewart-Haas Racing to drive a fourth car for the team next season. How does he explain that to a team trying to get in the Chase?
Greg Biffle (10th, 663 points) - His ninth-place finish at Michigan was his best finish in the last seven races. That’s not the type of momentum one needs trying to make the Chase. The one advantage Biffle has is that he won earlier this year, which could help him nab a Wild Card spot. If he doesn’t have better performances the next three races, though, he might fall out of Wild Card contention.
Kasey Kahne (11th, 659 points) - He’s going to make the Chase with his two victories. The key for him is to get into the top 10 in points so he can collect the bonus points for his wins.
Martin Truex Jr. (12th, 653 points) - Has struggled in the last three races at tracks two miles or larger. He finished 11th at Indianapolis, 15th at Pocono and 16th at Michigan. The good thing for this team is the largest track remaining before the Chase begins is 1.5 miles. The bad thing is if this team makes the Chase, it’s not showing signs of being a true title contender at this moment.
Joey Logano (13th, 646 points) - He has finished 11th or better in 10 of the last 12 races. The exceptions were Daytona and New Hampshire last month, when he had tire issues. He’s building momentum. Truex should be feeling the heat.
Jeff Gordon (14th, 637 points) - He needed a good run at Michigan and didn’t get it. A week after crashing at Watkins Glen and finishing 36th, he placed 17th at Michigan. He likely needs a win in the last three races and can’t finish worse than 10th in any of those races. The problem is he’s winless this year and has scored three consecutive top 10s only once this season. Then again, remember his dramatic run to make the Chase last year? Can he do it again?