Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: The Curse of Taladega

188 laps didn't matter. It all came down to the last lap. When it comes to restrictor plate racing, "the big one" is to be expected. We've seen cars dart out of an exploding scrap heap before to take the checkered flags, but when has one had so much riding on it as today's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500?

The impact is substantial. While the same three drivers remain noticeably ahead of the pack, the ground that must be overcome for other possible contenders with now just six races to go has grown to where all but a dominating winning streak and some misfortune for the top three narrows down possibilities to  wishful thinking.

Racing for the win, Tony Stewart's contact, a move for which he has taken full responsibility, with Michael Waltrip's car ignited the chain reaction that knocked  out most of the field with  Stewart finishing 22nd surrounded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. 21st and Clint Bowyer 23rd. Meanwhile others took quite a shot.

Here's what's left of the 2012 Sprint Cup Chase standings.

1 -- Brad Keselowski 2179   -
2 -- Jimmie Johnson 2165 -14
3 -- Denny Hamlin 2159 -20
4  2 Kasey Kahne 2142 -37
5 -1 Clint Bowyer 2142 -37
6  4 Jeff Gordon 2137 -42
7 -2 Tony Stewart 2136 -43
8 -- Martin Truex Jr. 2132 -47
9  2 Greg Biffle 2131 -48
10 -1 Kevin Harvick 2127 -52
11 -4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2121 -58
12 -- Matt Kenseth 2117 -62

Pity race winner, Matt Kenseth, for his is still the highest mountain to climb for the grand trophy or look at Jeff Gordon who finished second still having more than an entire race worth of points to make up. It's almost impossible to imagine today's two most fortunate drivers or Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, or Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the head table when it's all over in Las Vegas Recognize at -37 points in arrears, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer need to overcome more than six points a race to lead the standings, six positions ahead of their rivals in each race to come.

It was an ugly afternoon, and the comic image of Jmmie Johnson riding to the start/finished line in the window opening of the #88 car of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr hardly reveals the gravity each team must accept to get on with business going home to Charlotte for their next race. The cold chill of fall sets in as the days for a bountiful harvest slip away.

Brad Keselowski must hold off the most experienced champ in the business and another driver whose time for the sport's grandest reward has come so close but proven so elusive. For the rest of the field, the most perfect effort and planning in the world might not be enough to be a factor when the trailers roll into Homestead Florida late next month.

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