It's "go time" for several drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, as the race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is on.
This weekend's 400-mile event at Kentucky Speedway begins the 10-race stretch that precedes the playoffs for NASCAR's top series. Following Kentucky, the series will run at Daytona, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta before the regular season concludes on Sept. 7 at Richmond. The Chase begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland.
The top-10 in points after Richmond will qualify for the Chase. The 11th and 12th spots in the Chase field are the wild cards, which go to those drivers between 11th-20th in points that have the most wins.
Right now, Martin Truex Jr. holds the 10th spot in the point standings. After snapping his long 218-race winless streak this past Sunday in Sonoma, Calif., Truex moved up three spots in the rankings. He has an eight-point advantage over 11th-place Kasey Kahne, who has one victory this season (March 17 at Bristol).
Truex, who is in his fourth season with Michael Waltrip Racing, is hoping to make his second consecutive and third overall appearance in the Chase.
"I am not thinking about points until after the race at Richmond," Truex said. "I stopped focusing on it and landed in victory lane. It's amazing to think that we are in the position we are in. It's been a roller coaster of a season, and if we can keep the bad luck from biting us, I think we will be in good shape."
Truex would love nothing more than to win at Kentucky on Saturday, the same day he turns 33 years old. He's had very good finishes on the mile and a half tracks in the past.
"Kentucky should be a good race for us," he said. "We had a really good run there last year. We finished eighth. Our 1.5-mile program has been really impressive this year."
Kahne is presently atop the wild card rankings, while Tony Stewart holds the second spot due to his win earlier this month at Dover. Stewart finished 28th at Sonoma and dropped from 10th to 15th in points (-20 behind Truex).
While Stewart took a tumble in points, Jeff Gordon gained some ground with his second-place run at Sonoma. Gordon bounced back from a disappointing 39th place finish at Michigan. He is now 12 points behind Truex.
"We're just going to go and push hard and perform and try to put more finishes like this together," Gordon said after his runner-up finish at Sonoma. "If we live up to our potential and we don't get caught up in some of these silly things that we have been caught up in this year, there's no doubt in my mind we can work our way into the top-10."
Of the 23 racetracks on the current Sprint Cup schedule, Gordon has won at every one of them except Kentucky, which joined the series in 2011. Kyle Busch won the inaugural race here two years ago. Brad Keselowski scored the victory at this track last season.
"I think it would be cool to win at Kentucky and knock it off the list," Gordon said. "I'd love to win at every track. That would be a special accomplishment. And I need to win here before more tracks are added to the schedule."
Last November, Gordon scratched Homestead off of his tracks where he had yet to win. His first victory at the South Florida track came in his 14th start there.
Keselowski, the defending series champion, sits ninth in the standings (just seven points ahead of Truex). He has yet to win a race this season.
"Our team's goals for this season is to obviously defend the championship from last year and to win some races," Keselowski said. "We feel like we have that capability. We just have to dig in deep and find it here. But we're still in a pretty good spot (in points)."
Busch, who has two wins this year, is eighth in points. His victories came in Fontana, Calif. and Texas.
Behind Kahne and Stewart in the wild card standings are Paul Menard, who is 12th in points, followed by Gordon, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch. Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jeff Burton complete the top-10.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Quaker State 400. Kyle Busch and Keselowski are those Sprint Cup regulars competing in all three NASCAR races at Kentucky this week.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, June 29. Race: Quaker State 400. Site: Kentucky Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 267. Miles: 400.5. 2012 Winner: Brad Keselowski. Television: TNT. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.