NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
A third of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is in the books, and after the series' next race, the field will be halfway home in the 26-race regular season.
There's still plenty of racing left, but for several drivers on the outside of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's top 10, the clock is ticking a tad louder.
The full-court press for wild-card berths in the championship-deciding Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picks up steam Sunday in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks (FOX, 1 p.m. ET) at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The Monster Mile, known for its exacting nature and tendency for punishing mistakes, could present itself as a wild-card track for wild-card hopefuls.
Carl Edwards, a former Dover winner, clings to the 10th and final guaranteed spot for title eligibility, but Brad Keselowski (four points out of 10th) and Clint Bowyer (six points back) are in closest pursuit. Behind Bowyer is a break of 29 points before Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, who are tied for 13th. The rest are drivers who aren't logistically eliminated from qualifying for the top 10, but may have some of their best chances to advance to the postseason through the wild-card process, which raises the field to 12 by adding two drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins.
Keselowski carries the best hopes of those perched on the outside, based on his two wins this season. Third-place Denny Hamlin and ninth-place Tony Stewart are the only other drivers with two victories in 2012.
The only other Chase outsiders with a win under their belts are Newman and 15th-place Kasey Kahne, who emerged as a wild-card player with his first triumph at Hendrick Motorsports last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who is already on record that his best shot at title contention is probably a wild-card berth, needs to start accumulating wins to reach that goal. Gordon is already familiar with taming Dover, where he has four career wins but none since 2001.
"It's a challenging race track and our team has always excelled at the tracks that are most challenging," said Gordon, who will be attempting to log the 400th top-10 finish of his career Sunday. "We haven't been as successful there recently, but I do think that certain team and driver combinations get on a roll at certain tracks. That was one that we really got on a roll."
Greg Biffle leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings by 10 points over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth; both have won twice at Dover.
STENHOUSE SEEKS REBOUND AT DOVER
The aura of invincibility that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seemed to project over the first third of the season found a hitch at Charlotte Motor Speredway last weekend. As a result, the NASCAR Nationwide Series points race is back to a nip-and-tuck fight.
Stenhouse aims to rebound from his Charlotte misfortune in Saturday afternoon's 5-Hour Energy 200 (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) at Dover. He leads nearest challenger Elliott Sadler by 13 points heading to the series' first stop at the Monster Mile.
Stenhouse had strung together nine straight races finishing no worse than sixth before a drive shaft failure saddled him with a 26th-place finish at Charlotte. The defending series champion said that the setback won't alter his approach coming into one of the tour's toughest tracks.
"It doesn't at all really. We're going to go out to win every week," said Stenhouse, who logged a pair of top-five finishes at the mile track last season. "We've been fast at Dover every single time we've been there. We're going to win. It's what we do every week and I think we're going to have a shot at it."
Sadler's sixth-place finish allowed him to chop 21 points off Stenhouse's lead. Top rookie Austin Dillon is just 28 points back of Stenhouse in third.
Dillon will be joined by his younger brother, Ty, who will be making his series debut in Saturday's 200-miler.
LOFTON LEADS AS TRUCK TOUR MIXES IT UP
Parity has been the name of the game this season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The win column shows it.
The circuit's five races have had five different winners in 2012, a trend that could continue in Friday's Lucas Oil 200 (SPEED, 4:50 p.m. ET) at Dover. The Monster Mile has produced a similar variety of Victory Lane visitors, with 11 different winners in its last 12 races; Kyle Busch has been the only repeat winner since the trucks debuted at Dover in 2000.
Justin Lofton, the series' most recent first-time winner, used his win May 18 at Charlotte to rocket into the points lead. While he's all for the parity that landed him in Victory Lane two weeks ago, he wouldn't mind breaking the string this weekend.
"My roommate, and one of my best friends, his name is Miles," Lofton said. "I beat him on Xbox a lot, but it sure would be nice to be able to say I beat the monster Miles. I'd like to put that trophy right next to the TV. It can taunt the other Miles every time we play a game on there."
Lofton's hold on the series lead is a slim one; Timothy Peters is one point behind in second and top rookie Ty Dillon is third, 16 points back. Both Peters and Dillon are seeking their first wins of the season. Just 31 points separate the top six.