One driver who has been extremely impressive to me of late has been Martin Truex Jr.
He finished third Sunday in the rain-shortened race at Pocono, which helped him jump two spots in the points standings as we head into these last five races before the Chase starts.
Truex has had a really great season so far. He has a pole position, five top-5 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes in the 21 races held so far. If there is any negative to Truex’s season, it’s that he hasn’t won yet. Wins translate into bonus points when the points are reset for the 12 Chase teams.
For example, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski have three wins apiece so far. That means they already have nine bonus points each coming to them when the Chase field is reset.
The other thing I like coming out of the Truex camp is they are being aggressive and simply not trying to play defense. They know they need to win and they are going after it.
Which leads me to Kevin Harvick, who I believe really needs to mount a charge in these next five races.
Pocono cost him three spots in the points as he fell to ninth. There is a lot of pressure on that team, as they are really the only one of the three Richard Childress Racing teams with a legitimate shot to make the Chase. They need a win so badly it’s not even funny. They can’t afford to fall back any farther.
Remember, only the top 10 in points are guaranteed a spot in the Chase. The remaining two wild-card spots are determined by who are not in the top 10 in wins but inside the top 20 in points. If you look at the No. 29, unfortunately, they don’t have anything in the win column yet.
It’s not that Harvick’s team is far off, but they really need to find that 4-5 percent they are lacking on the rest of the front-running teams. If they can do that, combined with Kevin’s God-given talent, they can be right up there in the mix with a snap of the fingers.
I liken Kevin’s situation to what Tony Stewart went through during the regular season last year. Sure, they were good, but good isn’t enough anymore. You need to be great.
Look how, in just a handful of weeks, Jeff Gordon has turned his season completely around. It wasn’t long ago that everyone was writing Gordon off. Look at what some great runs and then Pocono did for him. He went from being on the outside of the Chase looking in to now being a legitimate player in the Chase picture.
If that isn’t enough of an example, then simply look over at Jeff’s teammate, Kasey Kahne. The first part of Kahne’s season was about as close to a nightmare as you can have. I mean, there was even early concern whether he was going to even stay in the top 35 in points, and then it became a concern if he would stay in the top 20 in points.
Then he wins a race. As we always like to tell you — winning cures all ills. Kahne gets on a roll and the next thing you know, he wins a second race. Now he is in the No. 1 wild-card spot and, with his two wins, all but guaranteed to make the Chase one way or another. It’s been an absolutely remarkable turnaround to a season for any driver I can remember in recent years.
Now, back to Jeff Gordon, who finally got some of Kahne’s luck. The rains came back to Pocono while Gordon was leading, he won the race and vaulted into the Chase picture. The real question now is, with five races remaining, will he be able to hold on and make the Chase?
You also can’t overlook drivers such as Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. They are dangerous individuals right now. Those four are outside the Chase and have nothing to lose in these next five races. They can throw caution to the wind. Obviously Ryan, Kyle and Joey do have a leg up on Carl despite the fact Carl is ahead of them in points. Those three have one win apiece this season, while Edwards still sits at zero in the win column.
So there are a lot of storylines and “what ifs” hanging around out there because of the factor of some drivers with one win but still outside the Chase. Actually these guys are double dangerous, now that I think about it. The guys who are already locked in are dangerous because they have nothing to lose and can gamble a lot.
So you have something like five guys at the top who can risk going for it. You have four or five guys on the outside who must risk it all to go for it or they will miss the Chase. Oh, and don’t forget the five guys in the middle who are trying to play it defensively, just so they don’t lose what they have.
So basically we have 15 drivers with all different agendas but one common goal — to win. And for NASCAR fans, that is the absolute best position to be in. Those 15 or so guys have to win, which means we, as fans, can’t lose.
It just doesn’t get any better than that, in my book.