The landscape of the NASCAR Chase For The Sprint Cup changed, again, after the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Which, incidentally, should not be unexpected, especially since the race returned to the bumping, grinding, caution-filled, fan-pleasing event it had been for years.
Given that, a shakeup in points was almost certain.
Indeed, it happened – although not as great as it might have.
The competitor most affected was Ryan Newman. The Stewart Haas driver came to Bristol 13th in points, 47 out of the top 10.
But, with one victory this season, he was ranked as the No. 2 “wildcard” candidate behind Kasey Kahne, who was No. 11 in points with two wins.
At Bristol Newman was involved in a three-car accident in the fourth turn on lap 192 of 500. Apparently the left-rear tire on his Chevrolet had gone flat, which triggered a spin that collected Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya.
“Well Ryan just said somebody got into the left-rear of him and cut the left rear tire,” said Tony Gibson, Newman’s crew chief. “The lap before that he started getting really loose and then the very next lap, it just turned around on him. “So, he didn’t say anything about the No. 42 car (Montoya). I think we were going to spin no matter what with that left-rear tire. By the time we saw it he had already spun. It’s a shame.”
Newman’s team would have made all repairs possible to return to the race and salvage points. But it simply couldn’t be done.
“The crash drove the frame into the motor and it’s just too far gone,” Gibson said. “We couldn’t fix it; not safe enough to go back out.”
Consequently, Newman finished 36th at Bristol and fell to 15th in the point standings. Kyle Busch, with a sixth-place run, has moved into 13th in points and now holds the No. 2 “wildcard” slot.
Two “wildcard” candidates with the most victories will be allowed into the Chase provided they are among the top 20.
With his two wins Kahne is currently the top “wildcard” candidate.
Five drivers – Jeff Gordon, Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano, all have one victory each and are among the top 20 in points.
Of those five, Gordon fared best at Bristol. He wound up third and thus moved from 16th to 14th in points.
Like the others, Gordon’s cause will be helped tremendously if he can win another race. But, again like the others, time is running short. There are only two races remaining before the Chase begins.
Although positions were indeed swapped after Bristol, the drivers among the top 10 entering the race all remained there.
Gregg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rank first through third, respectively. Johnson moved into the runnerup spot from fourth place.
All three are officially assured entry into the Chase.
Denny Hamlin, the winner at Bristol, jumped from eighth to sixth in points. The victory was his third of the season – which ties him with Johnson and Brad Keselowski for the most this year and virtually assures him a spot in the Chase.
The final two races before the Chase begins are at Atlanta this weekend and at Richmond two weeks from now.