Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Six races remain before that all-to-important NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff, counting Sunday's Pocono 400 in Long Pond, Pa., and that battle includes at least a couple of Chase regulars with multiple Pocono Raceway wins -- Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.
Edwards, the driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford who finished out last season in a points tie with champion Tony Stewart, is 12th in points and he doesn't have a win yet in 2012 to put him in the running for one of the two coveted wild card spots. He has a couple of Pocono wins on his resume, and he's hoping a third victory comes on Sunday to put him in the 2012 win column, putting him on the fast track to Chase wild card status.
"I think we have a pretty good plan for Pocono," Edwards said. "The race at Indy helped us try things we want to try for Pocono."
Maybe a win could even propel him back into the top-10 in points, where bonus points are handed out prior to the Chase.
"We have to go race," Edwards said. "We can do that; we can race like that."
In even worse Chase dire straits is Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. His shot at getting in on points pretty much flew out the window weeks ago. He heads into Pocono 15th in points, 79 markers outside the top-10. That's more than a race-and-a-half of points to make up to crack that club. At this point, Gordon's only realistic shot at getting into this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup is to start winning races, something he has failed to do so far this year.
Past statistics show that Sunday would be the perfect day for Gordon to right the ship on his 2012 season. After all, he is a five-time Sprint Cup winner at Pocono. When the series last visited the track in June, Gordon's race was pretty much a mini story of his 2012 season -- track position lost by circumstances that took him out of contention.
"That was a tough race, especially fighting back from a lap down and also having engine temperature issues," Gordon said of his Pocono experience from June. "I remember two cars running off the track into the dirt that day, and I was behind them both times, which led to the high engine temps. But the car had good speed all day."
But Gordon needs to, and surely will, put his recent Pocono past behind him to focus on winning races.
"This track, even after the repave made it smoother and faster with more grip, still has old Pocono characteristics, which I love," Gordon said. "The shape and the bankings of the turns haven't changed."
His 2012 season has put him in a position where he is probably going to end up needing to pull off at least two wins in the next six races if he hopes to be one of the 12 racers in championship contention come Chase time. And if two wins are what's required of him, he better get started soon.
Needless to say, it's crunch time and Chase spots are on the line. Edwards and Gordon, not to mention more than a few others, need to get back to race-winning ways if they want to be championship contenders in a few weeks. There's not time like the present to do that.