NASCAR changed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying format entering the 2014 season making it so the race winners in the first 26-races of the season would gain access to the Chase. Up to 16-race winners that is.
So far in the 2014 season there have been seven different winners in the first seven races. It seemed unlikely and still probably is that there will be more than 16 winners in the first 26 races but those without a win currently are going to start to feel the pressure as the spring months turn to summer.
Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano are the seven drivers who right now can breath easy that they have won and should have a Chase spot waiting them come September.
Other big name drivers though have work to do over the next 19 races. At the top of that list is six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is not having a bad season by any means and has been fast at almost every track so far. The No. 48 team just hasn't found victory lane. He currently is seventh in points which has him in the tenth Chase qualifying position of 16 currently.
Jeff Gordon has been close to winning a few times and is the current points leader. NASCAR made the rule that if the points leader after race 26 does not have a win they would be in the Chase even if there were 16 or more winners. Right now the active wins leader on the circuit holds the eighth Chase qualifying position.
Matt Kenseth won seven times in 2013 but has not found victory yet in 2014. Kenseth is second in the points and holds the current ninth Chase qualifying position.
Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, and Austin Dillon are currently ninth through 12th in points and hold the 11th through 14th Chase qualifying positions. They are all off to good starts to the season and could stay in Chase contention based on points all the way to race 26. Of course all four will be looking for that all important win still.
Denny Hamlin missed the race at Auto Club Speedway but is still 13th in points and holds the 15th Chase qualifying position. Hamlin ended the 2013 season with a win and won the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race to start the 2014 at Daytona but is under pressure after not picking up a points race win yet.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart currently is 14th in points and holds the final Chase qualifying position. He feels pretty good about his chances to pick up a win since two of his three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, already have wins. The team as a whole has been fast but reliability issues have hindered them overall. Stewart usually picks up his wins during the summer months.
The list of drivers with winning capabilities does not stop there though. Kyle Larson has shown he is a threat to win in his rookie season. He is 15th in points. Former multiple time NASCAR winners Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, and Kasey Kahne are 16th through 19th in points. Jamie McMurray is 21st and Martin Truex Jr is 27th.
There is plenty of time for these proven winners to earn their victory again in 2014 but one thing is for sure as each week passes without them winning the pressure is going to mount. The new Chase qualifying system is going to create tension and drama all the way from this Saturday night at Darlington until Saturday night September 6th at Richmond.
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