The race to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup is one of the most-stressful parts of the racing season. Drivers teetering around the 10th spot in the standings know every position might be the difference of making the final cut for the playoffs or joining the group of also-rans once the Chase starts Sept. 15.
Starting with Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway, every mistake will be magnified to several drivers.
And each top-10 finish will seem like a victory.
“It’s definitely not the situation we want to be in,” Truex said. “Obviously, with the strength of our team and the way we’ve run this year, I feel like we shouldn’t be in the position we’re in. We’ve had some failures and some crashes and some bad luck and things, but I think that a lot of the other guys around us are in the same position.”
Four races earlier, Truex was seventh in the standings. Now he’s out of the top 10. He’s not the only one who’s been part of the mechanical and emotional roller coaster in the past month.
Jeff Gordon moved into the top 10 and defending series champion Brad Keselowski moved out at last Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the past five races, Gordon, Truex, Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch all have taken their turns get in or falling out of the top 10.
Others caught in that logjam to make the top 10 are Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Aric Almirola.
“We have to still be consistent and make the most out of every day, every race day that we have,” Logano said. “That is the game plan as of now. Obviously after ever race we will take a step back, look at our situation and decide which way we will attack the race.”
The race is so tight between Greg Biffle in eighth place and Logano in 18th, that anyone in that 11-driver span can move into the top 10 – or fall out – at Pocono.
“You can’t stress over it too much,” Truex said. “You can’t really worry about the points too much. I honestly stopped thinking about points about Texas (in April) and said, ‘I’m just not going to worry about it anymore, because there’s nothing you can do.’
“All the other stuff that you throw into the mix in racing, there’s no telling what can happen, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Busch was eighth in the standings three races ago at Daytona International Speedway. Now he’s 14th.
“You can lose points real easily, but it’s tough to gain the points,” he said. “So basically from eighth to 18th, everybody fits in one shoe box right now.”
It’s so tight around the 10th position Gordon can finish as high as fifth Sunday and still drop to 14th in the standings if others earn bonus points for leading a lap or the most laps. Each position is worth a point and the spread between Gordon and 14th-place Kurt Busch is just seven points.
At the same time, Gordon is just five points behind ninth-place Kahne.
“Every time I’ve thought about points, it’s cost us more positions than we’ve gained,” Gordon said. “We go out there and race as hard as we can to put the best plan together, best race car together.”
Compounding the pressure for Logano and Keselowski is the fact they are teammates at Penske Racing, and they may end up racing against each other for a playoff spot.
“I feel like off the racetrack you need to work with each other as much as possible to make the two fastest race cars you can produce,” Logano said. “On the racetrack you need to race each other clean and smart and help each other when you can. But at the same time, he still is a competitor and we still will race each other, but we will race each other like a respectable teammate would.”
At might be easier said than done, especially when a single point could determine whether a driver makes the Chase.