Chase Window Starting to Close
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on July 30, 2014 | 4:15 P.M. EST
Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart hope to be pointing at a Chase Spot in the upcoming weeks. (Photo: Getty Images)
The window of opportunity to land a berth in this year’s Chase field is still open. But for some drivers, it's beginning to close.
There are only six races left in the regular season and as of now, just 11 drivers have won a race, which will be an automatic ticket to this year’s expanded playoff lineup.
Without wins, the balance of the Chase will be set by the point standings and as of now, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon would earn their way into the championship hunt via that route.
Just on the outside looking in points-wise are Kasey Kahne, only four behind Dillon for the now-final transfer spot; Paul Menard (eight behind Dillon) and Greg Biffle (nine in arrears of the Richard Childress Racing rookie).
But even further down the ladder are some high-profile drivers that are running out of time to join the Chase party. Granted, a win over the course of the next six weeks will get any of them in. But that might be a difficult task given the way the season has gone.
The legend of Stewart heating up in the summer months is one of those overplayed NASCAR clichés that - in reality - hasn't happened in years. But for "Smoke’s" sake as well as Stewart-Haas Racing and his fans, he needs to recapture some of that past magic. Stewart is 30 points behind Dillon but more importantly, has not been able to put together any kind of consistency all season long ... let alone be in position to win races. His record at Watkins Glen International (which is next up after this weekend’s trip to Pocono) is impeccable. But with only a pair of top-five performances in 2014, it’s hard to see the '14' challenging for a victory anytime soon.
Speaking of Watkins Glen, many have the road racing ace already penciled in for yet another win at the historic track. Well, not so fast! Ambrose was a heavy favorite in Sonoma and spit the bit at the first road race of the season. The Richard Petty Motorsports team tested at The Glen this week to be prepared, but the pressure - which now includes speculation that Ambrose may leave NASCAR for a return to the Australian Super Car Series - is mounting on the No. 9 team.
The Chip Ganassi Racing team has improved this year, to be sure. But it’s hard to believe McMurray’s rookie teammate, Kyle Larson, may be the organization’s lone Chase representative. McMurray has an All-Star Race win this season but unfortunately, that non-points race win does him zero good in terms of making the Chase. But he’s always been a big-race guy and McMurray has to hope he can rise to the occasion again over the next six weeks, which - at this point - are the biggest half-dozen races of his season.
Martin Truex Jr.
Last year’s "Cinderella" story, Furniture Row Racing, is going to need a pair of glass slippers to make the Chase ball this year. Truex & Co. have been a tad better in the last few weeks. But being an impact player for a race win seems way off the radar at this juncture.
The JTG/Daugherty Racing driver would love to take this year’s storybook tale into the Chase with a race win as a single-car team. Allmendinger was impressive at Sonoma, so Watkins Glen will be his best chance to join Daytona winner Aric Almirola as a surprise playoff participant.