Gordon now sits in 11th position, six points behind Ryan Newman for the final Chase spot. More importantly, however, Gordon has joined the ranks of the two-win drivers. Like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick (who has three), Gordon is now virtually assured of a spot in the Chase via at least the wild card.
Let's break down the numbers. If Gordon doesn't make it into the top 10, there's no other driver in the 11-20 range who even has a single win, much less two. So if he can't make it in via the top 10, he's all but certain there. In fact, the only guy with even a remote chance of making it into the top 20 with a win is Brad Keselowski, who lost a position and now sits in 22nd, 13 points behind Martin Truex Jr. for 20th.
If Keselowski does make it into the top 20, that suddenly puts a lot of pressure on Denny Hamlin to bring home a win. Hamlin is the trendy pick to make the Chase via wins, and with good reason; in 2010, he won nearly one-fourth of the season's races. But if Gordon can't break the top 10 and Keselowski sneaks in, that leaves Hamlin on the outside looking in.
There are still 12 races before the Chase, of course, and Hamlin's been on a steady upward trend. So if he and Gordon are able to close that gap between themselves and 10th -- Hamlin is just nine points behind Newman -- that puts Stewart-Haas teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman in the crosshairs.
However, Gordon has a more tangible reason for wanting to get into the top 10. If he qualifies his way into the Chase on points rather than wins, he'll get the three bonus points for each of those wins. Wild-card winners get no bonus points for their wins.
With an efficient, effective race, Gordon put some severe pressure on everyone from about position 8 (Clint Bowyer, 419 points) to position 20. And given the fact that Carl Edwards' on-track engine troubles demolished his lead, from 40 to six, this is shaping up to be a much more fascinating run for both the Chase and the regular-season championship than we'd expected even a couple weeks ago.
- Jeff Gordon
- Denny Hamlin
- Ryan Newman