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Wild Card Watch: Is it racing or wrecking?

August 15, 2013, George Winkler, NASCAR.com

Wild Card Watch: Is it racing or wrecking?
Definitions could get blurred with intensity building as standings continue to be tight

With four races to go until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the standings ever so tight, it was interesting to hear Brad Keselowski talk about racing Kyle Busch during the closing moments of the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International -- a race in which Keselowski, who is badly in need of a win in order to solidify a spot in the Chase, finished a close second.

“There’s racing and wrecking,” Keselowski said. “Those are two different things. Everybody defines them a little differently and I guess that’s the code you live your life by. Me, I define last year as racing and some people would define that as wrecking. If I was gonna take out Kyle today it would have been wrecking in my mind and there’s a distinct difference.”

Keselowski was referring at least partly to last season, when he contributed to sending Busch into a spin at Watkins Glen that led to a seventh-place finish for Busch, who ultimately missed the Chase. Keselowski finished second and, of course, went on to win the championship. Now, after Keselowski’s third straight second-place finish at The Glen, one wonders if he missed an opportunity.

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WILD CARD STANDINGS

Pos Driver Wins Pts Pos Pts from 10th
1. Kasey Kahne
    2
12th      -3
2. Ryan Newman
    1 14th      -20
3. Tony Stewart
    1 17th      -31
4. Kurt Busch
    0 11th      -2
5. Jeff Gordon
    0 13th      -15
6. Jamie McMurray     0 15th      -25
7. Joey Logano
    0 16th      -27
8. Aric Almirola
    0 18th      -64
9. Paul Menard     0 19th      -66
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
    0 20th      -94
11. David Ragan     1 26th      -226

While it’s respectable that Keselowski chose to be honorable toward the end of the race last week, will he regret not driving through Kyle on the way to Victory Lane? We shall see in the next few weeks.

We also shall see if drivers get a little more desperate and perhaps forego the gentlemanly agreements toward the end of races.

The intensity is certainly building to a boiling point. We saw it on Jeff Gordon’s face after he wrecked on Lap 14. We saw it in the way Marcos Ambrose disgustedly tossed his helmet aside after Max Papis spun him out with six laps to go. We even saw it on Twitter with Kasey Kahne’s comments toward Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.

It should get real interesting as the Race for the Chase pulls into stops at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, alternating between speedways and short tracks with only 24 points separating eighth place (Keselowski) from 13th place (Gordon) and with three drivers in that span (Kez, Gordon and Kurt Busch) still searching for their first win of the season.

Is it racing or wrecking? We'll see if the definitions get blurred in the coming weeks.

Ready to pounce: Kurt Busch’s quest to become the first single-car team driver to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup got closer to becoming a reality last week when he finished ninth at Watkins Glen. That moved him up two spots in the standings to 11th place, just two points behind Martin Truex Jr. in 10th place. And following a fourth-place finish at Sonoma, it certainly was a good year at road courses for the No. 78.

In general, Busch has been coming on of late, with five top-10 finishes in the past seven races. However, just when fans get comfortable with seeing Busch pile up strong finishes, he’ll stumble upon a finish that is 30th or worse. In the 18 races starting with Fontana, Busch has finished in the top-10 10 times but also has five times when he placed 30th or worse. Literally, there has been no in between with him.

He returns to Michigan where he had one of those bad moments, a 35th-place showing earlier this season. He had a fast car that day and led 21 laps, but then he got loose in a corner and smacked the wall, thus ending his chances at a good finish. Busch has two wins and eight top-10s in 25 Cup races at Michigan International Speedway. His Driver Rating of 87.7 there is 12th among active drivers.

In danger of falling out: Jeff Gordon matched Kasey Kahne last week with the dubious distinction of dropping four spots in the standings. Gordon fell to 13th place after wrecking on Lap 14 of the Cheez-It 355 and finishing 36th. Kahne, who’s in 12th place, has two wins to fall back on in the Wild Card race, while Gordon has none. Currently, Gordon would not make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The frustration Gordon showed in his post-wreck interview was palpable, and fans could get a sense he felt he was missing out on a golden opportunity. With Gordon’s strong history on road courses (Sprint Cup Series-best nine wins) it was almost surreal to see the driver of the No. 24 experience such a setback at Watkins Glen.

So now what? The good news is Gordon is just 15 points behind Truex in 10th place -- and five points in front of Ryan Newman, who holds the final Wild Card spot. Since the standings are so tight, there is bound to be plenty of shuffling in the next four weeks. Then, it will come down to who is holding the most victories for the winner of the Wild Cards to be determined.

Gordon has 14 wins in his Cup career at the next four tracks (Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond), with his last win coming in 2011 at Atlanta. However, his last victory at Michigan, this week’s track, was way back in 2001.

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