Drivers chasing wild cards during Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway instead wound up mostly with jokers.
And drivers left the track with the wild-card “holders” the same as when they arrived – Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.
The top nine drivers in the point standings have clinched Chase spots, and 10th-place Tony Stewart also will qualify, either by staying in 10th at Richmond International Raceway next weekend or through the wild card route.
Kahne holds the first wild card because of his two race wins. Busch currently holds the second by virtue of being 12 points in front of Jeff Gordon, who came ever-so-close to virtually locking himself in the Chase Sunday night.
Gordon had a victory within his sights but couldn’t pull out a win in a tight green-white-checkered finish with Denny Hamlin.
“I got everything I could ask for – the restart I wanted,” Gordon said. “I got to the outside. I made a mistake off two but got a run on him (Hamlin). Then I made a bad decision. I should have just run in the back of him going into three and moved him up the race track.
“We’d be sitting in victory lane now. This race is too important for me not to make a move like this. But, just to have a shot to win, I’m thankful for that.”
Winless Carl Edwards experienced engine problems in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford and will have trouble making the Chase even with a victory in next weekend’s regular-season closer.
Ryan Newman also is in deep trouble after a late-race crash with Jimmie Johnson and Sam Hornish Jr. dropped him into a 35th-place finish Sunday night.
Edwards is winless since March of last season and will need a minor miracle at Richmond to race for the championship.
“I’m not a real religious person, but I feel like somebody is trying to teach me a lesson,” Edwards said. “The big picture is, we were fast. Now we’re going to Richmond, where anything can happen.
“I’m probably going to drive pretty hard. It’s going to be fun. Go out there and hang out and do everything I can to win. To heck with the consequences, we’ll go racing and see what happens.
“That’s just how our season has been going, and I don’t know what the reason is. We treat these engines like gold and we hardly ever have engine troubles. These guys do a great job – Doug Yates and everyone at Roush Yates Engines, but we’ll go to Richmond and go win that race and somehow maybe a miracle will happen. We’ll make the Chase and go win this championship. That’s our mission.”
Behind Busch and Gordon in the wild-card standings is Marcos Ambrose, who trails Busch by 40 points. In addition to Busch, Gordon and Ambrose, Newman and Joey Logano also have one victory.
Any of the five drivers with one win could move into the second wild-card spot with a Richmond victory, unless Stewart falls out of the top 10 and takes one of the wild-card spots.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.