O’Reilly Auto Parts 500



At this stage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, there is little margin for error for those drivers without a victory looking to earn a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Five races remain before the start of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs and for a handful of drivers the balance of the season will unfold during that tense-filled stretch that begins this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Sixteen drivers will earn berths in the Chase and as the points currently stand only 11 drivers have captured a victory to help secure their spot – assuming Kyle Busch moves into the top 30 in points. Drivers such as four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, last year’s championship runner-up Ryan Newman, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer, Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray do not own a win as yet so they currently are relying on securing a berth via their standings in the points.

Without the leverage of a win, points now become a premium. A poor performance during this final stretch can spoil the dreams of a postseason championship run.

“You can’t afford to have many 42nd”‘place finishes, that could be disastrous,” Gordon said. “There are no guarantees, and so you’ve got to gain all the points you can when you have the opportunity.”

Kahne’s misfortune this past weekend at Pocono Raceway illustrated the razor-thin line for error. Just six laps into Sunday’s race, Kahne lost control of his car and went careening into the pit road, where he mangled both his car and the inside retaining wall.

The accident resulted in a 43rd-place finish for Kahne, moving him to 16th in the standings. Should Busch move into the top 30 in points over the final five races or someone else win, Kahne would be bumped from the final slot in the Chase field as it currently stands.

“Yeah, that’s really bad for points,” Kahne said following the accident. “It’s bad for just our team to lose a car that quickly into this race. And the last month has been really bad. And that was worse.”

Gordon, looking to qualify for the Chase in his final full-time Sprint Cup Series season, experienced much of the same drama as Kahne two weeks ago during the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A 42nd-place finish following an early accident sent Gordon one spot down in the Chase and near the Chase’s cutoff danger zone.

A rebound by Gordon last week at Pocono, where he finished third, provided the shot in the arm he and his team needed to regain momentum. 

“We had that opportunity today; we did it,” Gordon said following his performance in Sunday’s race. “This more helps make up a little bit for what we lost last week, but we can’t afford to let that happen again.

“… Hopefully we can just continue to make gains and get ourselves in the Chase, and we’ve seen in the past where anything can happen when that Chase starts, but you’ve got to be in it first, and we’re going to try to secure our way in there over the next few races.”

One of the biggest winners following Sunday’s race was Bowyer, who moved to 15th in the standings following his second consecutive top-10 finish and fifth in the last seven races. With a pair of strong showings and a move up the standings, Bowyer is looking to ride this success through the final five races to the cutoff for the Chase.

“I like our chances a lot,” Bowyer said. “We have some momentum going at just the right time and that’s something you can’t really anticipate or plan for. You just got to go with it when it happens.”

Texas Motor Speedway plays host Sunday, Nov. 8, to the middle race of the three-event Eliminator 8 segment of the 10-race Chase format to determine the series champion with the AAA Texas 500. Individual tickets go on sale for the AAA Texas 500 on Monday, Aug. 10. 

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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