Wild Card Race Heating Up at Pocono

Greg Biffle

These have been perplexing days for Greg Biffle as he tries to maintain a spot in the top 10 in points despite several drivers gaining on him after Indianapolis. (Photo: Getty Images)

LONG POND, Pa. - Greg Biffle couldn’t sleep this week, worried about Pocono, perplexed about Indianapolis and concerned his spot in the Chase was slipping away.

His fears subsided as soon as he got on track at Pocono Raceway. His car showed the speed that mysteriously abandoned him last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Biffle needed that reassurance. Although he’s eighth in the season standings, he’s only 19 points ahead of 14th-place Kurt Busch with six races left before the Chase field is set. Biffle’s 24th-place finish at Indianapolis shrunk his advantage over those trying to slip into the top 10 in points and earn an automatic spot to the Chase.

Heading into Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400, Kasey Kahne (one point back), Jeff Gordon (six), Tony Stewart (seven), Martin Truex Jr. (11), defending series champion Brad Keselowski (12) and Kurt Busch (19) are within striking distance of Biffle.

Biffle qualified seventh Friday and will start ahead of all of them but Busch, who qualified fifth.

“Right now I feel like we’ve got a car that can challenge for the win,’’ Biffle said after qualifying. “I haven’t felt like that here ... in probably five years. This thing is flying. What we did from last week to this week, we’re all standing back there going we’re not going to talk about it. We don’t know what we did.’’

Jeff Gordon knows what has caused him to be 10th in the standings - an inconsistent season.

“Our focus is just getting out there and living up to our full potential and get some consistency out of it,’’ said Gordon, who has nearly as many finishes outside the top 20 (seven) as top-10 finishes (eight) this year.

“This year has been a strange year for us. I feel like last year we showed a little bit more speed up to this point, and I felt like all we needed were some breaks to go our way. This year we just can’t seem to really get a hold of it. The last couple weeks have gone decent, but I know we are capable of just doing so much more. So it’s frustrating.’’

Gordon’s struggles continued Friday when he qualified 22nd.

He’ll start two spots behind Stewart, who also is trying to slip into the top 10 in points. Stewart, though, has a win, which could be key if he has to rely on a Wild Card spot. Gordon does not have that luxury.

Just making the Chase doesn’t interest Stewart.

“It doesn’t matter if you get in the Chase if you are not going to be able to do something when you get there,’‘ said the three-time series champion. “We are still looking what do we have to do to make things better.’’

So how close to being a title contender is he at this point?

“I feel like we still have room to grow, but last week having Ryan (Newman) win the race and us run fourth that was a big stride,’’ Stewart said of his teammate’s Brickyard 400 victory. “We just have to keep working at it. The hard part is it’s a moving target. The technology keeps moving around so what you think you are looking for can change. It’s just finding that next step.”

Truex hopes to find something different on the bigger tracks with Michael Waltrip Racing struggling there recently.

“I feel like as a whole we've kind of lost a little bit of that edge we had earlier in the season at places like Texas and Kansas and Michigan and places where we ran really strong,’’ Truex said.

Part of that, he says, is because other teams have used some of their four tests at NASCAR tracks. Michael Waltrip Racing has saved its tests. It will have its first test Aug. 20-21 at Richmond International Raceway and test Aug. 27-28 at Chicagoland Speedway .

“We're looking forward to getting to the race track and trying to prove some ideas out,’’ said Truex, who starts 26th.

Keselowski will get some extra work this weekend. He is shuttling between Pocono and Iowa this weekend. He’ll compete in Saturday night’s Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway and Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono.    

He defended the action, saying he committed to the race months ago. Also, his Cup pit crew will join him in Iowa. Keselowski said they’ve struggled at times and will use the Iowa race to get extra work.

Busch has to break a familiar pattern if he is to earn a Chase spot. He was fast Friday, something he’s been in previous weeks but has seen that speed go away during the race as the track gained rubber.

“We’ve been trying to come to the track with new pieces and new things,’’ he said.

Change is the key for Kahne since the series last race at Pocono in June.

“I just think a lot of things have changed since then,’’ he said. “Everybody’s cars have changed a little bit. We definitely need to keep up.’’

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