NEW YORK CITY - Matt Kenseth's 17th week at the top of the charts streaks on, as he sits 232 points ahead of his closest competitor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Kenseth and the No. 17 Roush Ford team have been the poster boys of consistency, scoring...
NEW YORK CITY - Matt Kenseth's 17th week at the top of the charts streaks on, as he sits 232 points ahead of his closest competitor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Kenseth and the No. 17 Roush Ford team have been the poster boys of consistency, scoring fifteen top-ten results; their worst finish of the year is a 22nd at Richmond.
While Kenseth has only won one race (Las Vegas) this season, the rock steady efforts of the Roush team have kept him comfortably ahead of all challengers. It's a far cry from last season, when team Kenseth earned a series high five wins; but ten finishes of 30th or worse relegated him to eighth in championship standings.
Even though Kenseth considered 13th a lackluster effort for his team, he only lost two points of his lead over the weekend.
"You take a third place car and finish 13th with it, I'm just mad," said Kenseth. "I don't care where everybody else finishes. I feel like we're running good enough to beat those guys."
Don't count out Junior
Bad luck for Jeff Gordon was a goldmine for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this weekend at Pocono. Gordon finished 36th after a lap 124 wreck, while Earnhardt finished third. These two have been switching positions 2-3 since Sonoma, and they do so again this week - as Earnhardt scoots 66 points in front of Gordon for second.
While no one could accuse Earnhardt of playing it safe to gain points, a certain maturity compared to 2002 seems to have embraced the No. 8 DEI Chevy team. At this point in the season last year, Earnhardt racked up only five top-five finishes (including 2 wins) but had nine races end in 25th or worse place and finished 11th in series standings.
In 2003, Earnhardt has eight top-fives (including one win), and only four results of 30th or worse. He seems more philosophical about race outcomes, and is delighted to pick up whatever he can to make the difference up between himself and Kenseth.
"We got a top-five and we got some points," said Earnhardt. "Matt (Kenseth) is still way out there, but we're doing all we can do -- top-fives, top-10s -- whatever. That's all we can do, man, that's all we can do."
Gordon's bid for a fifth Winston Cup title slipped a little further south Sunday, after a wreck downgraded him to 36th place. He falls 308 points from Kenseth. Gordon's season has been up-and-down. The No. 24 Chevy team does have seven top-five's and one victory - but six endings of 15th or worse has kept Gordon from being a true threat to head of steam Kenseth has built.
However, if anyone knows how to win a Winston Cup championship its Jeff Gordon. He's serious and imperturbable, and will not go quietly into the night.
"We were going to lose points anyway, because Kenseth is real strong and we weren't having a great day," commented Gordon.
"You can't give up or dwell on the negative -- this sport doesn't allow you that luxury (and) this team never gives up until it's all over."
If last season is any indication as to Gordon's performance, Kenseth and Earnhardt should be nervous. After the Pennsylvania 500 in 2002, Gordon went on to acquire nine top-ten's including three wins.
Mathmatically who's toast?
Probability wise, we are pretty much down to a three-man feud. Mathematically, if Kenseth, Gordon and Earnhardt's seasons all suddenly turn craptacular - everyone through the top-nine has a shot.
The first week of May, no one would have put Ryan Newman's name in the championship hat toss, as he sat stalled in 27th place. But, suddenly it's the end of July and Newman is ninth in standings. His Pocono results make him the driver on the circuit with the most wins this year and the most poles (five).
While Newman trails Kenseth by 614 markers - he's only 182 points away from the top five. In the last nine events, Newman has landed three of his four wins, and notched seven top-fives. Impressive.
Fact is this: Newman gained 56 points on Kenseth Sunday. With 16 events left if Newman scored that number on the No. 17 team each week he'd gain 896 points on Kenseth, that's 282 more than he trails.
Newman rolls into the Brickyard this weekend as a formidable threat for not just the pole but the win as well - he started fifth last year and finished fourth. There is nothing the 25-year-old South Bend, Indiana native would like more than to put an Indy win on his Winston Cup resume.
What's it all mean?
Ultimately? Nothing. There are no psychics in NASCAR, and stellar seasons can collapse like a flan in a cupboard in a few races. It comes down to luck, timing, lightning quick pit stops and the playing the right strategy on the right day. With a pinch of fate tossed in for flavor, at this point it's anyone's guess who will pose with the series' last Winston Cup trophy at Homestead.