Three Drivers in Need of a Top-5 Finish Sunday
Photo by Roger Smith /
With the regular season more than halfway done, teams and drivers are trying to scramble plans to get in to position to make the Chase.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.


By Dominic Aragon
TheRacingExperts.Com Reporter



After this weekend’s race at Sonoma, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have ten races left until the Chase cutoff for the 2012 season. NASCAR’s first of two stops at a road course couldn’t have come sooner for many drivers while some will be happy to finish the race on Sunday.

With the point standings becoming more solidified, drivers not in the wild card race may have to start taking more risks. This week, we take a look at three drivers who need a top-5 finish, if not a win in order to try and stay in contention for the Chase.

Jeff Gordon

Photo by Wesley Daniel / TheRacingExperts.Com

No doubt Jeff Gordon and the 24 Team are having their worst season of their career. Jeff Gordon is 83 points back from the Chase cutoff mired 20th in points.

But Jeff Gordon’s rank in the standings does not reflect how well the team has run. Gordon has led 408 laps this season, including 329 at Martinsville. However, four top-10 finishes is what is on paper for the team.

In the last six races at Sonoma, Jeff Gordon has scored the most points and best average finish (4.5) among all drivers. Although he has not led laps since his 2006 win, Gordon has managed to run consistently towards the front and almost pulled off the win last season.

As Gordon has stated, the team needs to “win races” instead of having good points days. If Gordon can win this Sunday, or even score a top-5 finish, he and his team will start a rebound to make the playoffs. A win will help Gordon become a factor in the wild card race, as a top-5 will help decrease the points deficit towards the top-10.

Joey Logano

Photo by Wesley Daniel / TheRacingExperts.Com 

2012 is a contract year for Joey Logano. Coming in to 2012, Logano scored just one win in three seasons. Many fans and sports writers alike believe that Logano has not lived up to expectations at Joe Gibbs Racing, but the driver of the No. 20 car might be on track to his best season in his career thus far.

Logano has scored five top-10 finishes including his win at Pocono two weeks ago. But as we have seen in the past, drivers are NOT guaranteed their seat even if they manage to win a race.

Roush-Fenway Racing expressed interest in keeping David Ragan last year. Ragan became victorious in the July Daytona race and finished 23rd in points. However, lackluster performance and absence of sponsorship forced Ragan out of the No. 6 car.

Logano is in a similar situation. Now that he has won a race, the pressure of making the Chase is bigger than ever. He has scored a top-10 finish at Sonoma in three starts, but his average finish of 19th is mid-pack at best.

If Logano can score a top-5 finish on Sunday, he will be able to climb a few positions in points. That might be able to show how well-rounded he is at road racing and that he is a serious threat to steal a Chase spot in September.



Aric Almirola

Photo by Wesley Daniel / TheRacingExperts.Com  

It is safe to say Aric Almirola has been a surprise this season. The No. 43 has been solid in cranking out top-20 finishes this season. Almirola is in his first full-time season moving up from the Nationwide Series.

Almirola has scored two top-10 finishes, including his 6th place run at Dover, a track he had never run at in Cup competition. But is he Chase material?

Almirola has run well this season, but a top-5 at Infineon this Sunday would show that the No. 43 team is a potential candidate for the 2012 Chase. He has run once at Sonoma, 2008, finishing 27th.

Almirola scored 30th on the leaderboard in first practice Friday. He needs to score a top-5 finish to get back inside the top-20 in points and to keep pace with trying to get into the post-season. This Sunday could be a make or break day for the No. 43 team’s chances of the Chase.