NASCAR Cup Series
AJ Eliminates Chase Opening For Non-Winner
By Matt Weaver — AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) won the Cheez-It 355 Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen and likely made his first career Chase for the Championship after outdueling @MarcosAmbrose over the course of two final restarts on Sunday afternoon.
While Allmendinger was victorious, Ambrose still finds himself on the wrong side of the bubble with four races remaining. The Allmendinger victory also means that there is one less spot on the Chase Grid available to non-winners — four to be exact. Ambrose is 16th in the Sprint Cup standings following his runner-up finish at The Glen but is 20th on the Grid and 50 points behind @Clint Bowyer for the final transfer spot.
“Man, I just finished the closest race of my life,” Ambrose said after the race. “I haven’t even looked at the points. I’ll worry about that on Monday. We’re decent in the championship — like 16th in points. We obviously have to score points but we’re focused on winning.”
In addition to scoring those 50-plus points over the next four events, Ambrose will also have to jump @AustinDillon, @KaseyKahne and @GregBiffle in the standings who also remain outside of the Chase cut-off — a daunting task.
@KurtBusch finished third in the race and joked that Ambrose should have wrecked Allmendinger to gain entry into the NASCAR playoffs. All kidding aside, Busch explained that preparation and good decision-making over the next month will be key in deciding who makes the Chase.
“It’s about putting yourself in position,” Busch said. “That’s what they did today and have to do again at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond — whether it’s done with pit strategy or good race cars.
“I haven’t looked at the points situation but I know (Kyle) Larson is on that bubble of those making it in on points too. You can’t stretch yourself too thin at this time of the year. You keep plugging away and wish you were in a better position.”
Busch said that he believes Larson was biting his finger nails and that Ambrose was poised to jump on those in front of him in the standings. He ultimately said that winning will be the main priority during the next month for everyone on the bubble.
“That’s what the Chase is all about,” Busch said. “Win and you’re in. I’m sure as it gets closer, we’re going to see people do more dramatic things to try to take a chance to make a run at the championship.”
The aforementioned Larson is one point ahead of Bowyer and nine ahead of Greg Biffle — the first driver on the outside of the provisional grid. He’s confident in his chances to perform well over the next four months at the remaining tracks but remains surprised that it has been this difficult to advance to the round of 16.
“It’s crazy to think that with a 16-team Chase that it will be harder to make it in than it was previously,” Larson said. “I’m 12th in points and I’m sweating just trying to get locked into the Chase. But it’s exciting for all the race teams that have to step up and the fans that pay attention to it.
“I think NASCAR did a good job with the change and made teams have to step up even more.”
Tony Stewart missed the race on Sunday after choosing to sit out following the accident in upstate New York where he struck and killed an on-foot driver during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. He fell to 24th on the Chase Grid and 97 points behind Bowyer for the final playoff spot.
With Allmendinger taking one of the provisional spots away, the Race to Chase just got a lot more interesting and equally intense. The updated Chase Grid standings can be found below.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3 wins)
- Brad Keselowski (3)
- Jimmie Johnson (3)
- Jeff Gordon (2)
- Joey Logano (2)
- Carl Edwards (2)
- Kevin Harvick (2)
- Kyle Busch (1)
- Denny Hamlin (1)
- Aric Almirola (1)
- Kurt Busch (1)
- AJ Allmendinger (1)
- Matt Kenseth +77
- Ryan Newman +19
- Kyle Larson +9
- Clint Bowyer +8
- Greg Biffle -8
- Kasey Kahne -12
- Austin Dillon -18
- Marcos Ambrose -50
- Paul Menard -60
- Brian Vickers -61
- Jamie McMurray -68
- Tony Stewart -97
- Casey Mears -118