Sunday’s race at Michigan marked one month until NASCAR sets the field for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now I said during the last off-weekend that I believed a majority of the Chase field could be set either by Bristol, which is next weekend, or a month before. Turns out, I’m not quite right.
Only one driver to this point has locked into the 2013 Chase, and that is Jimmie Johnson.
Pretty much everyone at this point in the season knew Johnson was a sure bet to be in the Chase. He’s got four wins this season, led by a strong margin all year long, and at some points has been outright dominant. At the same time, at Michigan this past weekend things did not go well. His race went south after a pit stop, when the engine began losing power, ultimately dropping two cylinders and finishing 40th.
At the same time, the points are still rather interesting, especially when you look at the battle around the bubble.
Sunday’s race added yet another driver into the hunt for either the top-10 or the Wild Card. From seventh to tenth in the standings there are three drivers that do not have a win. This is critical because a bad week could put them on the brink of falling out. At the same time, barely outside the top-10 are four drivers with at least one win, trying to get into the two Wild Card spots. With Tony Stewart out indefinitely, he is not going to be part of the title hunt this season.
But now, with Joey Logano taking the victory at Michigan, it makes things extremely tight in that battle. Two wins for Kasey Kahne almost ensure he will be in the Chase, but he would rather be in the top-10 and make those wins count towards points and seeding, rather than just being 11th once the Chase begins.
There are still drivers like Jeff Gordon trying to get a win to even get in the hunt, and at this point a driver like him will need to win, as nothing else will work.
With only three races now left until the Chase, two of them being on short tracks, things in the points are definitely going to get tight, and in some cases evil. With Bristol on the horizon, expect a lot of drivers to take risks, and make a few of their closest competitors a bit angry in order to get within a race to make the Chase, or even to just make it in the Chase.
It’s going to go right down to the final race, and the final lap, to set the Chase field. Hang on for one crazy ride.
RESULTS: 1-Logano 2-Harvick 3-Kurt Busch 4-Menard 5-Bowyer 6-Ambrose 7-Kahne 8-Burton 9-Biffle 10-Edwards
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Keselowski 15-Kenseth 17-Gordon 20-Hamlin 23-Patrick 31-Kyle Busch 36-Earnhardt Jr. 40-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 9 for 34 laps. Lap 3-5 (#15 spin-T4), 9-11 (#83 accident-T2), 14-17 (#14, 36 accident-T4), 72-75 (#17 accident-T2), 107-110 (Debris), 136-139 (#88 accident-T2), 150-153 (#47 spin-T4), 158-161 (#18 accident-T2), 174-177 (#18 spin-T4).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 13 drivers. Logano POLE, Kurt Busch 1-5, Logano 6-32, Kurt Busch 33-41, Earnhardt Jr. 42, Johnson 43-45, Ambrose 46, Bayne 47, Hamlin 48-51, Mears 52-53, Earnhardt Jr. 54-72, Hamlin 73-77, Kurt Busch 78-106, Keselowksi 107, Ragan 108, Biffle 109-136, Gilliland 137, Logano 138-157, Keselowski 158-173, Martin 174-196, Logano 197-200.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 45 Mins, 59 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 144.593 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.018 Seconds
POINTS (Top-10, Wild Cards): 1. Johnson, 813 points*; 2. Bowyer, -41; 3. Edwards, -51; 4. Harvick, -64; 5. Kyle Busch, -107; 6. Kenseth, -125; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -134; 8. Keselowski, -146; 9. Kurt Busch, -148; 10. Biffle, -150. WC1-Kahne (11th, 2 wins), WC2-Truex Jr. (12th, 1 win).
*Clinched spot in 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup