SONOMA, Calif. — Brad Keselowski started Monday by studying the Sprint Cup Series standings.
Currently 10th in points with two wins this season, Keselowski should be in solid position for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Turns out he is just part of the logjam of talented drivers vying for one of the 12 berths.
“Looks like the wildcard race (for spots 9 through 12) is about to get crazy,” he tweeted.
That’s an understatement.
By Keselowski’s count, there are eight drivers jockeying for four positions under the wild card element NASCAR introduced last season to its title-deciding, 10-race championship.
Only the top 10 in points after the 26th race of the season are guaranteed a spot in the Chase, with the final two positions going to the drivers with the most wins who aren’t already locked into the field.
There are 10 races left to set the field, and there are big names in danger of missing the cut.
Among them is Carl Edwards, who is 11th in the standings and wouldn’t be eligible if the Chase began today. A year after tying Tony Stewart in the standings and losing the championship on a tiebreaker, Edwards could be a spectator if this “hangover season” doesn’t turn around quickly.
Recent history has shown that the driver who loses the championship battle suffers a slump the next season. Nobody had it worse than Denny Hamlin, who lost the 2010 championship to Jimmie Johnson in the season finale and struggled most of last year.
Even Edwards has been through this before: He won nine races in 2008 as the runner-up to Johnson and went winless the next year while finishing 11th in the Chase field. Mark Martin failed to make the Chase in 2010 after finishing second to Johnson, and Jeff Gordon wasn’t nearly as competitive in 2008 – he went winless and finished seventh in the final standings – after going down to the wire with Johnson in the championship race.
So here Edwards sits, 16 races into this season, struggling to be a factor while Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle sit 1-2 in the standings. He’s not alone.
Kyle Busch is in a horrendous stretch of bad luck: Before Sunday’s 17th-place finish at Sonoma, he had three consecutive engine failures and he’s 12th in points. He would make the Chase as a wild card if the field was set today based on his victory at Richmond, but he has a bunch of one-win drivers breathing down his neck.
Among them is Ryan Newman, the Martinsville winner who is 13th in points and would be the second wild card today. He is followed by Joey Logano, the Pocono winner who is 15th, and Kasey Kahne, the Charlotte winner ranked 17th.
That drops Edwards down to fifth in the current wild card standings.
Remember, Keselowski doesn’t even think he’s safe. He has just an 11-point lead on Edwards, and should he fall a spot or two in the standings, he would suddenly be battling every driver with one win to get a wild card.
It’s going to get interesting over the next 10 weeks.