Battle for NASCAR Chase spots takes focus

May. 30, 2013 @ 12:09 AM

Sunday’s 400-mile race at Dover will mark the 13th race of the season for NASCAR’s premier division and halfway toward the start of the Chase for the Championship.
As many as seven drivers appear to be in good position to make the playoff by finishing in the top 10 points. One driver among those outside the top 10 is the clear leader for one of the two wild-card spots decided by number of victories and then points. Some former champions have work to do if they are to get in.
Those setting in good points positions go all the way down through Kevin Harvick, who is in seventh but is 30 points ahead of 11th place Kyle Busch, who is three points behind 10th place Brad Keselowski and four back of ninth-place Martin Truex Jr. The other driver just above the bubble is eighth place Paul Menard, who is just 15 in front of Busch.
The battle for 10th goes well below Busch, who has two wins and is the leader for one of the wild cards sports because he is the only driver from 11-20 with a win.
But, Kelselowski is just seven points ahead of 12th-ranking Aric Almirola, 11 ahead of Greg Biffle, 14 in front of Jamie McMurray, 15 ahead of four-time champ Jeff Gordon and 20 in front of Ryan Newman.
From there, the chances of someone making it get bleaker. Tony Stewart is the three-time champ with the uphill climb. Stewart is 20th and trails Kesleowski by 44 points, a whole race’s worth. Stewart’s best chance at making the Chase? Wins races and get one of the wild cards. Considering that Stewart usually gets hot with the weather, that is a distinct possibility.
And for those who rationalized how Denny Hamlin could make it despite missing four race because of injury, the reality is he needs help to get in. His only shot appears to be to win races and somehow get into the top 20 to become wild-card eligible. Getting into the top 20 might be the hardest part because he is a whopping 53 points behind Stewart.
Back at the top of the standings, the six ahead of Harvick in relatively good shape are leader Jimmie Johnson, and in order, Carl Edward, Matt Kenseth, Clint Boweyer, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson, by the way, is a solid 32 points ahead of Edwards and has two wins.
“We’ve got a huge points lead and things kind of -- we’ve had the wins and there have been tracks that we’ve been really hot at,” Johnson said Tuesday.  “But I feel like our mile-and-a-half stuff, we’ve been really just a top-five car.  Our short track stuff and superspeedway stuff, we’ve been a winning car.  With the mile and a half occupying so much of the year and especially the Chase, we have a little bit of room for improvement there.  I do feel very good about our cars and don’t want to undermine that.
“But the points lead is huge, and I’d love to keep it that way and roll on into Richmond or the races before Richmond with that kind of points lead so we can lock in.”
Dave Blaney’s crash in Dale Earnhardt’s oil Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600 wasn’t the thing that a small team such as Tommy Baldwin Racing needed.
“That was one of the few good cars that we have,” Blaney said. “So it didn’t do us any favors.”
What disappointed Blaney the most is that he wasn’t close to Earnhardt and felt that he should have avoided wrecking. He wound up plowing into the side of Travis Kvapil’s car.
“My spotter didn’t say anything,” Blaney said. “I’d didn’t have a clue oil was there until I was in it. I think I spun into Travis but I don’t know. The stupid thing is I wasn’t close (to Earnhardt) and I should have missed the oil easy.”
One of the biggest shows of the season at Bowman Gray Stadium is on tap Saturday night with a 150-lap NASCAR K&N Series race headlining a card that also includes a 100-lap Modified race.
The weekly card for all four stadium’s divisions is set for Friday with a 100-lap Modified race as the feature.
It will be the third trip for the K&N Series to Bowman Gray. The winners of the previous two events are not entered.
Brett Moffitt, who was knocked out of a second place in a wild last-lap last year at the stadium, is the K&N points leader. Ryan Gifford, the former Richard Childress Racing development driver, was the series’ most recent winner.
Clint King of Denton is among the entries. One of most recognizable names on the list is John Hunter Nemechek, 15-year-old son of Cup driver Joe Nemechek.
A 50-lap Late Model Stock race will be the feature Saturday at Caraway Speedway. The battle for the late model championship is currently a two-man race as Ryan Wilson leads Dan Moore by 14 points, with third-place Gene Kepley sitting a daunting 56 points out of the lead.
Justin Labonte, son of NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, won the Super Late Model race Saturday at 311 Speedway near Madison. . .Michael Tucker of Thomasville got his second Mini-Stock win of the season at Ace Speedway last week. , ,Ledford grad Harrison Rhodes makes another Nationwide start in one of Rick Ware’s cars on Saturday at Dover.