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Wild Card Watch: Stewart's chances dwindle

August 08, 2013, George Winkler,

Broken leg changes landscape of Wild Card race entering Watkins Glen

Related: Sprint Cup Standings | Full Tony Stewart coverage

Unless he makes a miraculous recovery from a broken leg, Tony Stewart’s chances to win a Wild Card spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup are essentially done. With just five races to go before the playoffs begin, Stewart sits in 11th place in the standings with 594 points. But as long as he is out and unable to accumulate points, drivers in the Nos. 11-20 range will be able to pass him.

Stewart has a victory in hand from Dover, but the advantage of that win also figures to vanish over the coming weeks. That’s because Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman each have a victory as well and presumably will score enough points to pass Stewart. Truex and Newman would then win the Wild Cards based on points if all three remained the leaders among the 11-20 group with one win apiece.


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Pos Driver Wins Pts Pos Pts from 10th
1. Tony Stewart     1 11th      -5
2. Martin Truex Jr.
    1 14th      -15
3. Ryan Newman     1 15th      -24
4. Brad Keselowski     0 12th      -7
5. Kurt Busch     0 13th      -11
6. Jamie McMurray     0 16th      -33
7. Joey Logano
    0 17th      -38
8. Aric Almirola
    0 18th      -45
9. Paul Menard     0 19th      -67
10. Jeff Burton     0 20th      -92
11. David Ragan     1 28th      -223

Entering Watkins Glen, Truex Jr. is 10 points behind Stewart and holds the second Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, Newman is 19 points behind and figures to be primed to knock his teammate out of the race while on the way out the door at Stewart-Haas Racing. That would be a nicer parting gift than Bob Barker could ever provide.

For Stewart and his fans, it’s a shame on several levels. Watkins Glen is one of his best tracks; he has the most victories (five) at the 2.45-mile road course in New York and consequently the best driver rating, according to NASCAR’s Statistical Services. And he seemed to be building momentum after a slow start this season.

Plus, it would have been fun to see if Stewart could stop Marcos Ambrose’s two-race win streak at the course. But now that Stewart is out and Max Papis will be driving the No. 14, we won’t get to see that showdown with Ambrose, who has the second-best driver rating at the Glen.

Ambrose has an outside shot of getting back in the Wild Card race with another win at the Glen, because he sits just seven points behind Jeff Burton, who is in 20th place. But the contending drivers who could benefit most now that Stewart is teetering on the brink of Wild Card extinction are Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon.

Although Gordon is inside the Chase in ninth place, he is still looking for that elusive first victory this season -- coming oh-so-close last weekend at Pocono. With Stewart out, it gives Gordon, who is the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup road-course winner with nine, a chance to solidify his spot.

As for Keselowski, he is just two points behind Stewart and will no doubt pass him this week for 11th place. Then all Brad needs to do is wrap up a win in one of these five races to have a chance to defend his title, which seemed like it might not happen a few weeks ago.

But boy, how the landscape has changed, thanks to an accident in a sprint car dirt-track race involving one of the most successful Cup drivers of our time. 

Ready to pounce: The Stewart injury also opens the door for Newman and Kurt Busch, who sit in 15th and 13th place, respectively. Newman, as we said, is poised to move past Stewart with that win from Indy in hand. And if Busch wins in the next five races and continues do well, he could become the first single-car team to make the Chase.

How do they look at Watkins Glen? Busch has the ninth-best driver rating among active drivers at the track with four top-10 finishes in 12 races. Meanwhile, Newman has just three top-10 finishes there in 11 races. So they will have to do a little better than their past history to truly pounce.

In danger of falling out: Although the Stewart injury gives Truex a better chance at a Wild Card, his fans can’t deny the drop of two spots in the standings last week after a 15th-place finish at Pocono. That allowed Keselowski and Kurt Busch to move in front of Truex in points, so if either of those drivers grabs a win, it’s going to put extra pressure on the No. 56.

Of course, it wasn’t a bad finish at Pocono considering Truex started 26th, but it’s the second straight week he has had to make up ground after a subpar qualifying run. The No. 56 team will try to fix that entering Watkins Glen, knowing that Truex won on this season’s earlier road course in Sonoma. Truex has four top-10 finishes in seven career Cup races at the Glen.


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