With only four races until the Chase starts,the top ten in Sprint Cup Points were shuffled on Sunday afternoon like an old deck of pinochle cards. No one was shuffled out of the top ten on the last lap of the Finger Lakes 355 At The Glen, but they sure found new positions. The only driver who didn’t budge and inch was Kevin Harvick. He started out in ninth place, and after a 15th place finish ended up in ninth place. Everyone else moved.
Moving to the bottom, and now in tenth place was Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s FedEx Freight Toyota sucummed to engine problems on lap 59, and he finished in 34th place. Haven’t we heard enough about Joe Gibbs and engine problems for the last couple of seasons. It seems like the stable can’t seem to gain any momentum due to engine problems. Luckily, Denny Hamlin has a couple of wins on the season, and should move up based on those wins when the field is reset. He would currently start in fourth place if the chase started today.
The other big loser Sunday was former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. After running most of the day up in the top 10, a little bit of bad luck, which Dale Jr hasn’t had much of this season, found him with six laps to go, and relegated him to a 28th place finish, down two laps. The problems dropped him three places in the points to fourth place. I hope for his sake, is a one-time deal, and he goes back to the good luck at Michigan where he won for the first time in four years. I think if he is going to give old 5-time any competition in the chase, he needs one more win before it starts.
The big winner at the Glen was Clint Bowyer. His strong 4th place finish after the win at Sonoma in June, proves he has found something on the road courses, and has gotten him up three places to seventh. If he could get another win, I think he might be a factor down the stretch.
The other big winner was of course, Jimmie Johnson. His third place finish at the Glen vaulted him into the lead which he probably was going to have after the reset anyway. Now he is already there. I’m afraid that the #48 has, with crew chief Chad Knaus, his team hitting on all eight cylinders, and is going to be tough to beat again this year. In the last 20 races, he has 3 wins, 10 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s. Looks to me like he’s on a roll already, and we haven’t even gotten to the chase tracks where he dominates anyway. I don’t rally see anyone beating this guy unless he has a run of bad luck somewhere. We already know he doesn’t usually beat himself, so it will probably take some bad luck to keep him away from the trophy at Homestead.
With the top ten fairly secure, the only drama left is the Wild Card teams. One thing for sure, is Jeff Gordon didn’t need the oil slick laid down by Bobby Labonte on Sunday. After his good luck win at Pocono, it looks to me like the bad luck came back again at Watkins Glen. After fighting back all day to get himself to the front, was shuffled back to 21st place and dropped him two spots to 15th, and now behind Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman for the final spot.
Only 10 points separate Gordon from Newman and Busch, but the Joker in the deck is Carl Edwards. After his Nationwide win at Watkins Glen, there is possibly some momentum left to get him a much needed win. With races left at Bristol and Atlanta, places where Carl has had some success, I’m not sure he is out of the picture yet. A win at one of those tracks would bode well for his chances at this time. He needs a good finish at Michigan to keep his hopes alive.
We all know what Gordon can do, so I wouldn’t count him out as of yet. He’s won five races at each Bristol and Atlanta, and six at Richmond. He’s also had two wins at Michigan, so until the chase is set, I consider him a contender. Now that we have the road courses out of the way, it should be very interesting over the next four weeks. I’m just hoping someone can give some chase to Jimmie Johnson, and not let him dominate the Cup series all the way to becoming old Six-time.
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