With his win in Sunday's Brickyard 400, Paul Menard added himself to a suddenly crowded field vying for the two wild card berths to the 2011 Chase.
Entering the Coke Zero 400 at the beginning of July, only one driver — Denny Hamlin — was between 11th and 20th in the points standings with a win. Now, leaving the Brickyard at the end of July, there are three drivers from 11th-20th with a win and a fourth, Brad Keselowski, on the cusp in 21st place.
Hamlin, who won at Michigan, is 11th, 19 points outside the top 10. Menard jumped up to 14th and David Ragan, who won at Daytona, is 16th, seven points behind Menard. (Keselowski is 16 points out of the top 20 and 35 points behind Ragan.)
The two drivers with the most wins from 11th-20th in the points standings entering the Chase get in via the wild card. If more than two drivers have the same amount of wins, the two highest in the points standings qualify for the Chase, meaning that Hamlin and Menard are in. For now.
Here's a look at how the four drivers with wins fare at the six tracks before the Chase begin. Let's also look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. Why Junior? Well, after his 16th-place finish at the Brickyard, he's now 10th in the standings, just 19 points ahead of Hamlin.
Junior: Pocono: 17.4; Watkins Glen: 22.9; Michigan: 15.9 (1 win); Bristol: 11.5 (1); Atlanta: 12.5 (1); Richmond: 14.3 (3)
Hamlin: Pocono: 9.2 average finish (4); Watkins Glen: 13.4; Michigan: 10 (2); Bristol: 16.3; Atlanta: 18.4; Richmond: 7.5 (2)
Menard: Pocono: 24.3; Watkins Glen: 23.9; Michigan: 23; Bristol: 20.6; Atlanta: 22; Richmond: 28.3
Ragan: Pocono: 21.4; Watkins Glen: 27.8; Michigan: 17.8; Bristol: 24; Atlanta: 25.6; Richmond: 19.9
Keselowski: Pocono: 21.3; Watkins Glen: 20; Michigan: 27.5; Bristol: 16.7; Atlanta: 30.5; Richmond: 25.8
If we're going to go by the numbers, it seems Hamlin is a near lock for the Chase, especially if he gets a win at Pocono or Richmond. And while past history likes Junior's chances, he's fallen from third to 10th in the past six races and is in danger of losing 10th to Hamlin. If that happens, he'll need a win.
Who ya got?
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