SPEEDWAY, Ind. — The Brickyard 400 kicked off the seven-race build to the Chase for the Championship — affectionately titled the “Race to the Chase.”
As has been the case in recent years since the institution of the new championship payout system, this year’s playoff bubble is full of multiple race winners and previous champions — including defending titlist Brad Keselowski — and not all of them are going to make the cut.
Jimmie Johnson extended his massive points lead, now 75 over second-place Clint Bowyer.
But in less than two months, following the fall race at Richmond, the standings will be reset and the top-10 in the standings, plus two wild cards with the most wins from 11th to 20th, will also make the field and compete for the Sprint Cup championship.
With an extra off-week to prepare for the Brickyard 400, several teams established this race as one they needed for a good result, just to get the final stretch of the regular season off to a good start.
Some teams did just that, breaking into the top-10 or won the race outright like Ryan Newman and has now positioned himself for a potential wild card berth. Other faced a variety of problems on Sunday and will need to reestablish momentum in order to make the Chase.
The most noteworthy of these drivers can be found below:
Jeff Gordon: The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion didn’t win his fifth Brickyard 400 but he did solidly score a seventh-place to move back into the top-10 in the championship standings. That’s important because he doesn’t yet have a win to fall on. It’s time for Gordon to win or use this finish to propel him up the standings.
Ryan Newman: In scoring his first victory of the season, Newman gave himself a fighting shot at a Chase berth and improving his free agent prospects after Stewart-Hass Racing announced that he wouldn’t be back next season.
His victory ties him with teammate Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. in wins, turning the wild card battle into a points duel until one of them wins.
Tony Stewart: While Tony Stewart has a win to fall back on, he would prefer to cash it in for three Chase bonus points. His fourth place finish moves him into 11th and just one point-behind 10th-place Gordon.
Brad Keselowski: The defending NASCAR champion fell out of the top-10, doesn’t have a win to fall back on and just seems to be constantly mired in state of inconsistency. Whether it is his run-ins with NASCAR tech officials or his on-again, off-again feud with Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski is looking to reset his season next week at Pocono.
Kurt Busch: The Brickyard 400 was a race of what could have been for the 2004 Sprint Cup champion. Busch started sixth and just couldn’t maintain the position over the course of changing fuel and tire strategies. Also winless, Busch was making a strong push to make the Chase on points after cracking the top-10 in Daytona.
Back-to-back bad finishes at New Hampshire and Indianapolis will have him playing catch-up for next six races.
Jeff Burton: The RCR veteran said he believed he could still compete for a Chase berth after finishing third at New Hampshire. The hopes, intents and good vibes were likely dashed after a variety of mechanical failures relegated the No. 31 to a last-place finish, having him spiral down to 19th in the standings.