Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick have all but guaranteed their Chase for the Sprint Cup berths with wins, already, this season — Earnhardt winning the Daytona 500 on February 23, and Harvick winning at Phoenix International Raceway this past Sunday. Under the new “win and you’re pretty much in” Chase format, as long as these two drivers keep themselves in the top-30, it’s almost a sure thing that they’ll be among the 16 drivers to make this year’s Chase.
Still, points are sure to get some drivers in. For example, if someone manages to be the points leader at the end of race 26 at Richmond International Raceway in September without winning a race, as the points leader, he/she will get a Chase spot. Also, if fewer than 15 drivers, other than the points leader, visit victory lane, the Chase field will be field in based on the points standings.
Also worth noting: this new Chase format doesn’t mak a win necessary to win the championship. Had this format been implemented last year, Earnhardt, who failed to get to victory lane in 2013, would’ve been the 2013 Sprint Cup champion. Wins are important, but apparently, they’re not everything.
Keeping those things in mind, here is how the top-10 looks after Sunday’s The Profit 500 on CNBC at Phoenix and heading into this upcoming weekend’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr., leader
2. Brad Keselowski, -6
3. Jeff Gordon, -10
4. Kevin Harvick, -11
5. Jimmie Johnson, -12
6. Joey Logano, -15
7. Matt Kenseth, -20
8. Denny Hamlin, -22
9. Carl Edwards, -25
10. Greg Biffle, -26
It’s pretty much the usual cast of suspects, as far as top-10s go. But again, this is more about wins than points in terms of Chase consideration. Case in point: I got the above standings from ESPN, and that site actually lists Harvick as second in the standings, although he has fewer points than Keselowski and Gordon. That’s because he has a win, and the other two don’t, yet. Also, the cutoff on ESPN’s list is 16, reflecting the number of Chase berths. For now, I’ve adjusted the order to reflect points only and only included 10 drivers. That will change in the coming weeks, as the winners list gets longer and the Chase gets closer.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR