No one knew what to expect this season when NASCAR changed the qualifying format for the season-ending 10-race Chase for the Cup, but the results are becoming clearer heading into Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
During the first 26 races of this current National Sprint Car Series campaign, the first 16 drivers who can win at least one race and emerge 30th or better in points will automatically make the Chase for the Cup field. If there are not 16 race winners, then the non-winning drivers highest in points will complete the lineup.
Heading into The Glen, 11 drivers have won at least one race. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson have captured three each. Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick each won a pair. Single victors have been Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch. Those currently in a Chase qualifying position who have yet to reach Victory Lane this season are Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Greg Biffle. Among the notable drivers who are winless and have not gathered enough qualifying points are Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose and Jamie McMurray. Here is a capsule look at the drivers who currently are in a Chase position heading to The Glen.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. – NASCAR’s most popular driver has a trio of victories this season and has jelled well with crew chief Steve Letarte. Earnhardt also has 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. He is having a career year and hopes for better at The Glen this season after placing 30th last year. Since 2004, the year the Chase system was invented, Earnhardt has made The Chase six times.
• Brad Keselowski – with three wins this season, the 2012 NSCS champion has done well for Team Penske. Keselowski has never won the NSCS event at The Glen but has finished second each of the last two years.
• Jimmie Johnson – seeking his seventh NSCS title, Johnson, NASCAR’s defending champion, has won three times this year but has had a few poor finishes in recent weeks. He has never won the NSCS race at The Glen and placed eighth there a year ago. He is the only driver to have made The Chase every year since 2004.
• Jeff Gordon – joins Earnhardt and Johnson as Hendrick Motorsports drivers currently holding three of the top four Chase positions. Many have questioned whether Gordon, a four time NSCS champion, had lost his competitive fire and is coasting to eventual retirement. He has silenced his critics with a pair of wins this season, including the recent Brickyard 400. He also has amassed an impressive 15 top-10 runs . Although winless at The Glen since his last of four wins there in 2001, he is running well enough this season to perhaps regain some of his old road-course magic.
• Joey Logano – Currently enjoying a breakout year with Team Penske, Logano has finally lived up to all the hype that he enjoyed when he was a rookie a few years ago. He has two wins this season and 11 top-10 runs in a season that also includes four failures to finish.
• Carl Edwards – Despite a pair of wins this year, including the road course at Sonoma, Edward’s career is in transition as he is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of this season for a yet-to-be-announced team. He placed a strong fourth at The Glen a year ago.
• Kevin Harvick – the best of the Stewart-Haas Racing bunch this season, Harvick has two wins and placed second at Pocono last Sunday for his 10th top-10 of 2014. He was the 2006 Glen winner.
• Kyle Busch – by his own standards Busch is having a somewhat quiet year with just a single victory. He already had two 2013 wins when he arrived at The Glen last year and went on to win the race.
• Denny Hamlin – despite a win earlier this season, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team is better remembered in the last week for a technical infraction they suffered after the Brickyard 400. Crew Chief Darian Grubb is serving the second of a six-race suspension but will be back in time for the beginning of The Chase next month. Hamlin has five top-five finishes this season.
• Aric Almirola – easily the biggest surprise on The Chase grid, this Richard Petty Motorsports driver was victorious in July at Daytona. He placed 37th at the Glen a year ago.
• Kurt Busch – a winner this past spring at Martinsville, Busch has just four top-10’s and five times did not finish. He was ninth last August at The Glen.
• Matt Kenseth – the highest ranked of the nonrace winners coming to The Glen. Consistency has helped with 13 top-10 runs. He had four wins last season when he arrived at The Glen during his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing.
• Ryan Newman – Newman is having a frustrating year with Stewart-Haas Racing, recording just two top-five runs.
• Clint Bowyer – Much more was expected of Bowyer, who has just three top-five finishes. He placed sixth at The Glen in 2013 and won at Sonoma in 2012.
• Kyle Larson – Referred to this season as NASCAR’s “super rookie,” Larson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, is the only rookie currently in a Chase spot thanks mainly to four top-five and nine top-10 results.
• Greg Biffle – The veteran driver snuck into a Chase position with a fifth-place run this past Sunday at Pocono, knocking rookie Austin Dillon off the Chase grid for now. Biffle has just three top-five’s all season.