News & Media

Win on Sunday a big help in wild-card battle

July 14, 2012, Mark Aumann,

LOUDON, N.H. -- For the Chase wild card contenders currently on the outside looking in at the 12-driver field, Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway isn't as much a "must win" situation as it is a perfect opportunity to leap over the competition.

For Clint Bowyer, it's a place where he can't afford to "do something stupid and knock ourselves out of this Chase."

"To keep it fun is a big thing. It gets stressful. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on a team that's on a bubble and making that Chase."


Bowyer is 10th in the standings and has the win at Sonoma last month to boot, plus his past performance at Loudon's mile -- two wins over a four-year span -- certainly adds to his confidence coming into Sunday's race.

But he's coming off two terrible finishes, including a 29th at Daytona that leaves him just 31 points ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards. So turning the momentum back in a positive direction is crucial.

"It's just one of those tracks where I feel like we can win again at, but more importantly, we can get things steered back in the right direction like we had through the month of June," Bowyer said. "We had a lot of solid runs right there, and that's what it takes, especially at this point in the year. We had the win. If we can get ourselves another win, it would be huge."

Bowyer's been in this situation before. He clinched a spot in the 2010 Chase with a good run at Richmond, but missed the Chase field the following season.

So Bowyer knows the worst thing a team can do at this time of the year is panic.

"I think the key is to maintain the level of confidence, the level of comfort that we've had with one another," Bowyer said. "To keep it fun is a big thing. It gets stressful. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on a team that's on a bubble and making that Chase.

"It's so important to everything we do: sponsors, owners, everybody. Everybody gives it their all, but you've got to keep them calm so they can make the right decisions they have to make and do the same thing yourself. That's all you can do."

After Sunday's race, there will be only seven more chances to either move into the top 10 or score enough victories to secure one of the two wild card spots available. And with Richmond looming closer each weekend, the urgency is evident.

By virtue of their wins this season, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano currently hold claim to the wild cards, but Logano said there may be as many as seven drivers with a reasonable shot -- especially if one could pull off a victory Sunday.

""It's definitely very, very close out there right now for the Chase spot," Logano said. "I think at this point, as many guys as have one win that are this close in points right now -- I think another win is going to be a very important thing to get. [And there's] not a better weekend than this weekend to get one."

Carl Edwards is 11th in the standings, but doesn't have the win that would propel him past Busch and Logano. In his mind, a victory here -- or down the road -- would go a long way toward guaranteeing a position either in the points or via the wild card.

But having said that, Edwards doesn't believe it's late enough to take a crazy gamble, one that might wreck any opportunity to rebound before Richmond.

"We'd like to do it both ways," Edwards said. "We'd like to just go out here and dominate a race or two and march into the top seven or eight in points and have a couple wins and not have to worry about it.

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"But until that point, we'll go do the best we can, score all the points we can and take chances if they're right there in front of us. If I see something I can do that would get us that win, then I'll do it."

If there's one driver in that "must win" category, it would be Jeff Gordon. Winless and mired in 17th place, he realizes he may have to put together an amazing run to get back into contention.

"One win is going to be great, but it's still not going to get us into the Chase, I don't believe," Gordon said. "So, we know we've got to put a string of races together here to get ourselves that opportunity to win more than one race."

The one thing working in Gordon's favor may be the schedule. After the off week, Indianapolis is up next -- and Gordon has four Brickyard 400 trophies on his mantel.

Even though the standings may indicate otherwise, Gordon remains confident that his team is just one good break away from a win.

"We've shown a lot of speed," Gordon said. "We're capable of leading laps and we just haven't come up with the results. But I feel like we've turned a corner. I feel like the last few weeks we've putting some good results together and getting to the finish with the car in one piece and having good runs.

"These next several weeks are obviously crucial for us. This is a great track for us. We had a shot, I felt, of winning both these races last year. We're certainly hoping to redeem ourselves this weekend and this year here in New Hampshire because it's such a great track for us. So, you've got here, you've got Indianapolis and we've got a bunch of tracks coming up that we're definitely capable of winning at."

Win and you're in? Not exactly, but it would certainly move you closer to the front of what is becoming a fairly long line.

Four drivers -- Busch, Logano, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne -- are outside of the top 10 but have won. And Logano knows he may have to visit Victory Lane one more time to make certain he's got a spot in the Chase.

"I think Kasey's had a lot of fast race cars, so you would assume he would definitely have a pretty good shot at it," Logano said. "I think [Jeff Gordon] is somebody you would figure would get a win between now and the Chase. He will be right up there.

"That's why I say that extra win is going to mean a lot. We're not that far from Kyle in points, either. We're only a few points back from him. There's five, six or seven of us there very, very close and one win would be a big deal."