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Wild Card Watch: Scoreboard watching

August 29, 2013, George Winkler, NASCAR.com

Wild Card Watch: Scoreboard watching
Gordon among drivers needing a win at Atlanta

Related: Chase clinching scenarios for Atlanta

If Bob Costas were a NASCAR fan and vehemently against the Wild Card per usual, he’d certainly have some talking points given how the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings look entering Atlanta.

With two races to go, three drivers -- Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch -- have more points than Wild Card holders Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman, but because they don’t have wins, they wouldn’t qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

In a way it doesn’t seem fair, especially considering Keselowski has 22 more points than Newman, but these are the rules we live by. And instead of being against the system, the opportunity is there to embrace what figures to be a competitive finish.

In what has been one of the closest races to the Chase in years, there’s no telling which direction it will go. If any of the three aforementioned winless drivers manages to find Victory Lane in Atlanta, then the Richmond race could take on epic importance.

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WILD CARD STANDINGS

Pos Driver Wins Pts Pos Pts from 10th
1. Martin Truex Jr.
    1
14th      -22
2. Ryan Newman
    1 15th      -26
3. Tony Stewart
    1 19th      -91
4. Brad Keselowski
    0 11th      -4
5. Kurt Busch     0 12th      -6
6. Jeff Gordon
    0 13th      -11
7. Jamie McMurray     0 16th      -38
8. Paul Menard
    0 17th      -47
9. Aric Almirola     0 18th      -69
10. Jeff Burton
    0 20th      -93
11. David Ragan     1 26th      -233

It has been fun to track the real-time standings on NASCAR.com as the drama unfolds. It was there where we saw Joey Logano drop out of the top 10 in the standings after bumping into Kyle Busch at Bristol, then work his way back into the top 10 with a fifth-place finish.

It was there where we watched Kurt Busch climb, then fall out of the Chase after a damaged wheel hub doomed his result at Thunder Valley. We also saw the defending champ, yes the Blue Deuce, do the unthinkable and end the night out of the Chase.

What will happen next? Well, we are all scoreboard watchers now. Some will pull for their favorites, while others might be rooting for utter chaos to ensue.

If you fall into the latter category, then you should hope Keselowski, Gordon or Kurt Busch can win this Sunday and tighten the race up even more.

Which one of them has the best chance to do it?

According to NASCAR’s Statistical Services, Kurt Busch has led the most laps (519) over the past 14 races at Atlanta. But during that same time, Gordon is tied with Matt Kenseth for the best average finish at 9.1. And with Bobby Labonte out because of broken ribs, Gordon is now the active driver with the most wins at Atlanta (five).

As for Keselowski, he might have the worst chance of the three if you rely on the historical data. His driver rating of 83.7 at Atlanta ranks 16th, well behind the leader in that category, Jimmie Johnson (108.3).

Although Gordon and Busch have the numbers to back them as potential favorites, they’ll have to contend with Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others. Edwards has run the most fast laps (341) in this timeframe at Atlanta, while Kenseth has that sparkling average finish. Junior isn’t far behind either of those two in driver rating at Atlanta. And as we mentioned last week, Junior needs a win just as much as anyone else in this dogfight.

Yes, there’s a lot at stake this weekend. Let the scoreboard watching continue.  

Ready to pounce: Avid Gordon fans have been waiting for weeks for the No. 24 to end up in Victory Lane. The last time it happened was the 2012 finale at Homestead. But he’s a strong contender again this week, and what a boost it would be to have the four-time champion right in the thick of the Wild Card race.

As it stands, Gordon is smack dab on the fringe, in 13th place with 674 points and 11 points behind Logano in 10th place. Like Keselowski and Kurt Busch, Gordon has double-digit top-10 finishes this season, but only Newman has as many DNFs among the contending drivers (five).

Provided Gordon can stay out of trouble, he should be able to make a good run. Like we said, he has a strong history at Atlanta with five career wins there. And one can make the argument that if you toss out the wreck at Watkins Glen, that Gordon has been racing as well as he has all season.

In danger of falling out: Truex Jr. was in the wrong place at the wrong time at Bristol. With a top-10 finish in his sights, Truex Jr.’s No. 56 got caught in an eight-car wreck that sent him into the infield wall. Truex Jr. suffered a sprained and fractured wrist in the accident and will wear a specially made cast in order to race at Atlanta.

Truex Jr. enters the race in 14th place, but he holds one of the Wild Card spots thanks to his victory earlier this season at Sonoma. However, with three drivers ahead of him in points who aren’t Wild Card-qualified, should any of them win it could make Truex Jr.’s road to Chase tough. That’s especially true if Newman, who is four points behind and holding the other Wild Card spot, jumps past Truex Jr.

Truex Jr. finished fourth last year at Atlanta and ranks fifth with an average place of 11.8 in the past eight years at Atlanta. He’ll need another race like last year to hold tight in his position, and he’ll have to do it while battling that injury.

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