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NASCAR: Chase contenders face challenge or racing for points or win at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. – Carl Edwards has a couple ways to make the 12-driver field for the Chase for the Championship.

As the 11th-ranked driver in the Sprint Cup Series standings heading into today’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at 1 p.m. (TNT), he could get in as a top-10 driver. He could also qualify if he manages to win a race or two before the playoffs start in September.

If he pushes too hard today at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in an attempt to win the race and get into contention as a wild card, it could cost him valuable points.

And if he worries too much about points, it could eliminate any chance as getting in as a wild card.

Like most racers, Edwards is thinking more about wins than points.

“I think if we were close to a win here this weekend it would be very, very hard not to really just go for it,” Edwards said. “We need a win bad, but, at the same time, we still have enough races that if we just run solidly and run like we know we can, I think we’ll march into the top 10 on our own merit just with points, so I’m not quite to that point yet.”

With only eight races remaining before the Chase starts, New Hampshire will help shape the playoff field. For some it’s the best chance to chalk up a victory to help their wild card hopes. For others, it’s a chance to create separation in the point standings.

And for select and anxious few, it’s a little of both.

“It’s a crunch time period for us in the season to need to do that again,” Ryan Newman said. “Hopefully, we can deliver, I feel like our cars are pretty good.”

Kyle Busch is another one of those drivers caught between both scenarios. He’s 12th in points, but his one victory currently has him locked in as one of the two wild car drivers.

He’s in a good spot to help himself today by starting on the pole. But other contenders aren’t too far behind.

Kasey Kahne will start second, followed by Denny Hamlin in third, Martin Truex Jr. in fourth, Clint Bowyer in fifth, Newman in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in seventh, Jeff Gordon in eighth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in ninth and Tony Stewart in 10th.

Joining Edwards and Busch as drivers on the playoff bubble are: Truex (eighth in points with no wins); Bowyer (10th in points with one win); Edwards (11th in points with no wins); Paul Menard (12th in points with no wins); Joey Logano (14th in points with one win); Newman (15th in points with one win); and Kahne (16th in points with one win). Gordon isn’t on that list at 17th in points with no wins, but nobody is ready to count him out – especially the two drivers with the most wins who aren’t in the top 10 will qualify as wild cards.

A win today for any of them would go a long way into helping both avenues into the Chase.

Logano will start 16th. He currently is the second wild card entry, but that spot is tenuous, at best.

“There’s five, six or seven of us there very, very close and one win would be a big deal,” Logano said. “I think it’s one of the most exciting races to the Chase that we’ve had, especially for me because I’m involved in it. It’s definitely a lot of fun. It does add a little more pressure, because you can’t afford to have a bad race at this point.”

If Gordon is going to get into contention, the charge probably has to start today. He’s got three career wins at the one-mile oval, and he’s embarking on a stretch of tracks that really suits him well. His biggest problem is he only has eight races to accomplish a difficult, if not improbable, turnaround.

“One win is going to be great, but it’s still not going to get us into the Chase, I don’t believe,” Gordon said. “So, we know we’ve got to put a string of races together here to get ourselves in that opportunity to win more than one race.”

That’s what makes picking favorites in the stretch drive so difficult.

“Yeah, I don’t think you can really count out anyone in the top 20 just because right now if you’re able to knock-off two wins, you’d be the guy,” Kahne said. “So, that’s going to all change over eight weeks. Who knows what will happen.”

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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