Five Drivers That Need to Win at The
Photo by Paul Strickland Jr. / TheRacingExperts.Com
Jamie McMurray has placed in the top-5 the last two Indianapolis races including his win in 2010.
By Dominic Aragon
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
As the stretch to the Chase for the Cup begins, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will stop Sunday at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While some drivers are virtually locked into the Chase at this point, plenty of names in the sport are vying for some of the final Chase slots, including the tossup wildcard positions.
At this point, four drivers outside the top-10 are eligible to qualify for the Chase via the wildcard. Kasey Kahne is arguably in the best possible position with two wins and sitting 14th in points. While he may have a cushion, many drivers are looking to just have a shot at the Chase. This week, we look at five drivers that are in dire need of a good run.
It’s amazing how Carl Edwards’ year has gone compared to last year. Coming into Indianapolis last year, Edwards was the point leader and was a shoe-in for the Chase. One year later, Edwards is on the brink of missing the Chase. It has been 52 races since his last win at Las Vegas in 2011.
Edwards has scored three top-10 finishes in seven starts at “The Brickyard,” including his second place finish in 2008 to Jimmie Johnson, but he will need to be contending for a win Sunday to keep his playoff chances from fading. The next three tracks on the schedule, Pocono, Watkins Glen, and Michigan have been places historically Edwards has run well at. But a win on Sunday for Edwards will give the No. 99 team newfound momentum with Edwards’ only crew chief in the Cup Series Bob Osborne stepping down over the off-week for medical reasons.
Kyle Busch has had a very inconsistent season. Although he pulled away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps to win at Richmond, he has scored just one top-10 finish in the past seven races. Engine failures back-to-back at Dover and Pocono knocked the No. 18 team outside the top-10 in points.
Indianapolis has been a decent track for Busch, as he has posted an average of 13th place in seven races. Although he is currently scored second for the wildcard spot in the Chase, a second win would solidify his chances at the Chase.
Time is running out for Jeff Gordon. This season has included plenty of back luck runs that put the No. 24 team practically out of making the Chase solely on decent finishes. Not only does Jeff Gordon need a good run Sunday, he needs to win just to be in the hunt for a wildcard spot.
Gordon has scored 14 top-10 finishes in 18 starts at Indianapolis, including four wins. Although Gordon has not won at the Brickyard since 2004, he has posted three top-5 finishes since that elusive fourth win, as well as almost pulling off the win last season. If Jeff Gordon can win this Sunday, the team can out aside the distractions of the earlier woes this season and focus on making the Chase.
After a struggle some 2011 season, Jamie McMurray is currently scored 20th in points, eight positions better than last season coming into Indy.
In 2010, McMurray showed skill and muscle leading 16 laps en route to victory lane. Last year, he showed a little bit of luck on fuel mileage to score a top-5 finish. McMurray needs a win on Sunday if not a good finish, since he is ranked in the last position eligible to make the Chase via wildcard. Winning the race this weekend for No. 1 team would add more drama and suspense to the already close wildcard race.
This season for Regan Smith has produced mid-pack finishes with a best of 14th at Darlington. At this point in the season, the No. 78 team is out of making the Chase. However, the team needs a good run on Sunday to boost team morale.
The small one car team out of Denver, Colorado came into Indy last season mired in a similar position in points. But Smith used a fuel mileage strategy to score a top-5 finish. Previous to that finish, his first three trips to The Brickyard a best of 31st.
Another key piece
is that Smith is in a contract year, and it is rumored that there will be big
changes at Furniture Row Racing next season. Not even a win, but a top-5 finish
will show that Smith can back up his already strong qualifying runs and take a
step forward to prove he deserves to keep his ride.