Wrecks involving Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. put pall on Jimmie Johnson's Chase clinch
Outlook: It was a terrible day for Hendrick Motorsports overall, but at least Johnson clinched his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spot. Finally, he can take a breather. It was looking a little hairy there for a while. (Just kidding.)
Related Video: Johnson post-race reaction
Standings: 1st, 808 points
2. Kyle Busch
Outlook: After a pair of heartbreakers in the last two races at Watkins Glen, Busch broke through for his first win at the track since 2008. The final laps of the race showed why Busch is one of the hardest drivers to pass in the series and why he, not Brad Keselowski, ended up in Victory Lane.
Related Video: Busch victory comments
Standings: 5th, 693 points
3. Clint Bowyer
Outlook: In our poll that asks which winless driver in the top 10 could get his first victory at Michigan, Bowyer is getting crushed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. It’s interesting, because last time out he finished seventh to Junior’s 37th and Keselowski’s 12th.
Standings: 2nd, 733 points
4. Matt Kenseth
Outlook: When Kenseth picked up his fourth win of the season at Kentucky in June, it looked like he might be the only driver able to hang with Jimmie Johnson this season. Since then, however, Kenseth has been mired in a slump that has seen him average a finish of 18.4 in five races. He’s hardly in danger of missing the Chase, but he may be starting to lose some steam.
Standings: 7th, 659 points
Outlook: Since wrecking at Talladega and finishing 40th -- one of just two finishes worse than 19th this year -- Harvick has completed every lap but has had a pretty even mix of average and solid showings. Overall, Michigan has been an average track for him, but he’ll be looking to build off his runner-up finish in June to get things going again.
Standings: 4th, 707 points
6. Carl Edwards
Outlook: Michigan was the spot where Edwards’ infamous ‘He ain’t out teammate’ comments regarding race-winner Greg Biffle came from in June, but it’s also where Edwards earned his only Coors Light Pole of the season. Needless to say, he’ll be motivated for this one.
Standings: 3rd, 728 points
Outlook: Keselowski rebounded from early trouble to manage a brilliant second-place finish and “right the ship”, if you will. He said in his post-race comments that he could have wrecked Kyle Busch so he could get the victory, but it just isn’t his style.
Related Video: Keselowski post-race presser
Standings: 8th, 634 points
Outlook: Much like Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt Jr. was never in the running for a victory, but his wreck -- also involving Kahne -- certainly didn’t help his chances. He lost a spot in the standings and with no wins under his belt, Junior has to be feeling some pressure. Luckily, the series now heads to one of his best tracks in Michigan International Speedway, where he’ll be looking for redemption after blowing an engine in June.
Standings: 6th, 670 points
9. Kasey Kahne
Outlook: Kahne, who wasn’t particularly fast all day, didn’t appear destined for back-to-back wins, but his chances were shot completely after a run-in with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that tore off his entire rear. Thanks to his two victories, Kahne currently holds onto the first of two Wild Card spots, but there are plenty of drivers hungry to overtake him.
Standings: 12th, 622 points
10. Martin Truex Jr.
Outlook: Truex proved that his victory at Sonoma in June was no fluke, earning a top-three finish at Watkins Glen and making a statement that Michael Waltrip Racing might have the best road course program on the circuit.
Related Video: Truex post-race presser
Standings: 10th, 625 points
11. Kurt Busch
Outlook: Busch was deemed “ready to pounce” in this past week’s Wild Card Watch and while his ninth-place Watkins Glen showing isn’t a huge head-turner, it does put him higher in the points standings than Kasey Kahne, who has two wins to Busch’s zero. Kahne still holds the Wild Card over Busch, but conversely it speaks to the former champion’s consistency.
Standings: 11th, 623 points
12. Greg Biffle
Outlook: Biffle earned a victory at Michigan close to two months ago, one that he’s been relying on heavily as he keeps himself in Chase contention. One thing’s for sure, Ford would like to see him add to its win total.
Standings: 9th, 627 points
13. Jeff Gordon
Outlook: After wrecking just 14 laps into the race, Gordon was visibly frustrated during a post-crash interview -- and rightly so. The Hendrick Motorsports driver needed a win badly and his disappointing finish has him in a vulnerable spot in the standings.
Standings: 13th, 610 points
14. Ryan Newman
Outlook: It’s time to give Ryan Newman some credit. After learning that he wouldn’t be back in his No. 39 Chevrolet next year, he could have held a grudge against team owner and friend Tony Stewart. Instead, he’s shown hardly any ill will and even jumped to Stewart’s defense this week. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his boss’s injury has allowed him to hold a Chase spot.
Standings: 14th, 605 points
15. Joey Logano
Outlook: Logano enjoyed a nice finish at Watkins Glen and, truth be told, has really been quite good this season. He's just had a few rough days that stand out (Kansas, Talladega, New Hampshire, Daytona in July) and a penalty to overcome that may have set him back more than he can handle.
Standings: 16th, 598 points
16. Jamie McMurray
Outlook: McMurray is in a tough spot. He could force his way into Chase talks with a victory, but none of the tracks left have been too kind to him.
Standings: 15th, 600 points
17. Aric Almirola
Outlook: It’s tough to tell if Almirola lost control of his No. 43 Ford because of his blown left-front, or if he’s near-sighted and just wanted a closer look. Either way, he went nose-first into a huge pile of tires.
Standings: 18th, 561 points
Outlook: Unsurprisingly, the road course veteran Montoya had a solid day at Watkins Glen, finishing fifth. He’s had a lot of bad luck this season, but he’ll need more than just good luck over the next four races if he still plans on making the Chase.
Standings: 22nd, 516 points
19. Tony Stewart
Outlook: Max Papis filled in admirably, sure, but I have a feeling keeping the No. 14 car in the running for the owners standings is just a small consolation for seeing his name drop down the drivers standings. These next few weeks as the Race for the Chase winds down will be hard for Stewart to swallow as he recovers from his broken leg.
Related Content: Full Stewart coverage
Standings: 17th, 594 points
20. Paul Menard
Outlook: To his credit, Menard has only not finished one race this season, four less than current Wild Card holder Ryan Newman. Unfortunately, plenty of those finishes were far from the top.
Standings: 19th, 559 points
In the rearview