Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The wild card scenario in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is really getting wild following Jeff Gordon's win last Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Prior to Pocono, there were doubts if Gordon would make the 12-driver field for the Chase. Gordon has had a competitive car throughout the season, but the four-time series champion had experienced one misfortune after another. That finally changed at Pocono, where he picked up his much-needed first win of the season.
Gordon prevailed in the rain-shortened Pocono race, taking the lead just before a severe thunderstorm moved over the area. Starting 27th, Gordon placed himself in front of the field when a five-car crash occurred just after a restart on lap 91. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, led the way for the restart, but Johnson suffered a flat tire and spun in turn one, taking out several frontrunners.
Running sixth for the restart, Gordon avoided the crash and moved into the lead right before the caution flag waved. The race never resumed from there, as rain began falling on the 2.5-mile triangular racetrack moments after the multi-car incident. NASCAR stopped the race 62 laps short of its 160-lap distance.
"It's nice to know that things can still go our way," Gordon said. "We haven't had a whole lot go our way this year. To have the first four cars in front of you all slide up the racetrack, you go by and win the race with the rain. It's nice to know that at least things can still go our way. This is a big boost for us as a team."
After the series' first trip to Pocono the second weekend in June, Gordon sat 22nd in the point standings. But Gordon has significantly improved since then. He has finished in the top-10 in six of the last seven races, which has moved him up to 13th in points.
Gordon's Pocono win, however, gives him huge momentum in his attempt to qualify for the Chase. With five races to go before the playoffs begins, Gordon occupies the second and last wild card spot. He was fifth in the wild card rankings after last week's race at Indianapolis.
Watkins Glen (Sunday), Michigan (Aug. 19), Bristol (Aug. 25), Atlanta (Sept. 2) and Richmond (Sept. 8) are the remaining races in the regular season. The 10-race Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland.
"In my opinion, this only puts more pressure on us over these next several weeks, but we're ready for the challenge," Gordon said. "This is a great moment for our team, because I think we're really fired up for next week's race, and the coming weeks, to legitimately have a come-from-behind season and get ourselves in there."
Heading into this weekend's race at Watkins Glen, Kasey Kahne, who is Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, holds the first wild card position by virtue of his two wins this season (Charlotte and New Hampshire). Kahne's second- place finish at Pocono moved him up to 11th in the point standings. He trails 10th-place Clint Bowyer by a distant 57 points.
Prior to the start of this season, team owner Rick Hendrick predicted all four of his teams would be represented in this year's Chase. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is presently atop the point standings, while Johnson, with three wins to his credit this season, is fourth in points. Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson are virtually assured of making the playoffs.
The question now is: Can Kahne and Gordon hold on to their wild card spots or finish the regular season top-10 in points?
"It would look really good," Kahne said. "It would make Mr. H pretty happy. He's been happy with the speed we've had all year, all the teams. He talks about Jeff every week, how fast they are, the bad luck they've had."
Gordon holds the last wild card spot by a very slim margin over Ryan Newman. Right now, Newman is tied with Gordon in points (611), and he also has one victory on the season (Martinsville).
But Gordon's four top-five finishes give him an edge over Newman, who has just three top-fives.
Kyle Busch held the second wild card position before Pocono, but Busch crashed in the early going and wound up finishing 33rd, which dropped him to fourth in the rankings. Newman finished sixth.
"We needed that, another top-10," Newman said. "We gained on the No. 18 (Busch), which we needed, but now I've got to contend with the No. 24 (Gordon), it looks like. We need to focus on getting another win."
Despite winning the spring race at Richmond and finishing second at Indianapolis, Busch has had his share of mishaps throughout the season as well.
"It's just the way it seems to be, but the way our year has gone, it's just inevitable to have something happen every week," Busch said after his disappointing result at Pocono.
Joey Logano is the fifth driver outside the top-10 in points that has at least one victory this year. He won the June race at Pocono and put himself into contention to make the Chase for the first time. Logano occupied the final wild card spot after the July 7 race at Daytona. He is now fifth in the rankings.
Carl Edwards, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton are ranked sixth through 10th, respectively, in the wild card battle. A win by any one of those drivers would really make things interesting. Ambrose is the defending race winner at Watkins Glen.