By Joe Dunn
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway this week for the third of ten races for the Championship. Ordinarily the points after 3 races out of 10 races might not be such a big concern, but there are now 8 drivers more than 100 points behind the leader, and that could spell concern for some of them.
Tony Stewart sits 5th right now, 106 points out of first, and that would not be a concern for a driver of Stewarts caliber, but the last few weeks have not been kind to the driver who led the points for most of the regular season. Still, Tony has been a constant threat and even through equipment problems, he has managed to battle back for respectable finishes. Not time to count out the No 14 Chevy team, I look for at least one more win for him.
Denny Hamlin had a horrible finish at Dover, but even that 22nd place didn’t hurt him too badly. Like Stewart, Denny has the ability and the team behind him to get the No 11 Toyota back up front and cut into that 108 point deficit.
Ryan Newman, even though he has been winless this season has been a consistent driver. The team continues to struggle to get and keep the setup needed for the No 39 Chevy to run up front, but Ryan is as persistent as any driver in the series. Being 110 points back makes a run for first difficult, but look for him to continue to be up front for the next 8 races.
Jeff Gordon sits 8th in the points, 122 behind teammate Mark Martin. Jeff has had an off year, with a single win at this point. Many observers point to his ever present back pains. Most other drivers this far back would be considered doubtful to challenge for the number one spot, but don’t count out Gordon just yet, there is still time for a driver with his skill and patience to rebound. A bad finish at Kansas however would signal a real problem for the No 24 Chevy.
Greg Biffle heads to Kansas 138 points out. Another winless driver with a rather erratic season Greg needs a top 3 finish at Kansas to bring the No 16 Ford back to life and contend for a top 5 points finish.
Brian Vickers is the real wild card in the Chase. His time behind the wheel of the No 83 Red Bull Toyota was all over the place last year. It was only really in the latter half of this season that he and his team have come to life. On a wing and a prayer the No 83 team managed to make the chase. But at 151 points back, this team will be fighting hard just to make it onto the stage at Las Vegas.
Carl Edwards is one of the most twisted stories so far this year. The driver of the No 99 Ford has been a hot foot for Roush Fenway Racing since he took over for Jeff Burton in 2004. So to see the year he has experienced, winless so far has to be a hard reality to accept. But like Jeff Gordon, even at 153 points back, Carl still has the ability to turn this Chase around. Remember folks, this is the guy who pulled that Bonsai move on the last lap at Kansas last year. Granted, he hit the wall and finished second, but it is finish that you will all see a lot of replays of this week. A top 3 finish here could propel Carl back up front, a bad finish will probably have him thinking about next year.
At 12 place, 189 points back, Casey Kahne will be forced to settle for making the stage , at Las Vegas. His DNF at New Hampshire, combined with an 8th place at Dover has left him heading to Kansas with a full race deficit. Barring DNF’s by the top 3 teams, the No 9 Dodge will be fighting for positions other than Champion.