Cup Series Heads For Monster Mile
DOVER, Del. — Hendrick Motorsports entered this season with a few goals to check off. One, get that 200th win. Check. Two, win a bunch races after that. Check – it’s 2-for-2 since winning at Darlington for No. 200. Three, win an 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Obviously, that’s still in question.
But with the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season at the midpoint after this Sunday’s race at Dover Int’l Speedway, HMS has put itself in prime position.
Two drivers seem like locks, by virtue of a top-10 spot.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks fourth in points, a healthy 67 points ahead of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cutoff. With yet another top-10 finish, at Charlotte — his seventh in the previous eight races — Earnhardt now has nine top 10s in 2012. That’s more than any driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He has completed all 3,888 laps this season, the only driver to do so.
Jimmie Johnson sits right behind his teammate in the standings, fifth overall and 37 points inside the Chase cutoff. The five-time champion has led 501 laps this season, more than any other driver.
Then there’s Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, two drivers outside the top 10 but with very real Wild Card opportunities.
After race No. 26, the top 10 drivers earn berths in the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 will go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins. Currently, Kahne’s third in the Wild Card standings.
Kahne continued his torrid pace, winning his third Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on Sunday – his sixth consecutive top-10 finish. Only two drivers have scored six consecutive top 10s this season: Kahne and Earnhardt. Kahne’s surge has launched him up the standings, from 31st before the streak to his current position of 15th.
Gordon likely needs a win to make the Chase. Bad luck has ravaged his season, and here’s the proof: Though he ranks 22nd in points, his 2012 Driver Rating of 88.1 ranks 13th.
Johnson likely holds Hendrick’s best shot at Dover this weekend. A six-time winner at Dover, Johnson boasts the track’s top pre-race Driver Rating (118.6). Another victory this Sunday and Johnson will tie NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison on the all-time Dover wins list.
Invisible Monsters: Roush Fenway Quietly Dominating
Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle owns a win and has led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for 10 consecutive weeks. Think about that for a second. Last year’s champion, Tony Stewart, led the points for a total of three weeks and none of them consecutively.
Matt Kenseth, another member of RFR, has occupied the second-place spot in the NSCS standings for the past three weeks. Oh yeah, he also won the Daytona 500.
Carl Edwards, the third stable mate, ranks 10th and hasn’t come close to hitting his stride of a season ago, when he finished second in the points.
They each have eight top-10 finishes apiece. And using the polarizing “if the season ended today” benchmark, all three would make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
If dominance can be accomplished quietly, Roush Fenway Racing has done it.
And don’t expect it to stop any time soon. They flourish at the Monster Mile of Dover Int’al Speedway. Kenseth won last year’s spring race there; “Concrete Carl” Edwards boasts the top average finish (7.3); and Biffle has two victories at the one-mile concrete track.
Last October, RFR’s Big Three all finished in the top 10, with Edwards leading the charge with a third-place run.
In seven of the 12 tracks the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has run thus far this season, Brad Keselowski has posted a career best finish.
That figure includes, most recent, Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished a career-best fifth to inch closer to the top 10.
Another career weekend, and Keselowski would likely enter the top 10 (he’s currently only four points behind 10th-place Carl Edwards). That would send ripples throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
Here’s what could happen: Keselowski, now the leader the in the Wild Card standings, could move into the top 10. Ryan Newman would then likely become the top Wild Card driver. Kasey Kahne, now on the outside looking in, would take the No. 2 Wild Card spot. And, if Edwards were to fall out of the top 10, he’d now be on the outside looking in.
There are lots of ‘ifs,’ that’s for sure. Those scenarios get even more questionable after a quick glance at Keselowski’s past history at Dover. In four starts, he has yet to finish in the top 10. His best finish was 13th in last year’s spring Dover race.