Jeff Gordon could win one or maybe even two of the next nine races, and still fail to make NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
Heading into Saturday’s race at Daytona, the four-time champion is 18th in the Sprint Cup standings, 84 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski.
Chase bids go to the top 10 drivers in points, and then two wild-card spots based on wins for drivers inside the top 20. As it currently stands, the final two spots in the Chase would go to Kyle Busch, currently 12th in points with one win, and Kasey Kahne, currently 14th in points with a victory.
It would leave both Gordon and Carl Edwards, who tied Tony Stewart in last year’s championship battle, out of the 10-race playoffs.
While Edwards is 11th in the standings and could conceivably make the Chase without a race win, Gordon has little chance of making up that much ground on points alone.
Even if Gordon had a race win at this point, he still be on the outside looking in. Busch, Kahne, and Joey Logano are all winners this season ahead of Gordon in the point standings.
There’s a decent chance Keselowski could fall outside the top 10 and if that happens, only one wild-card spot would then be available.
The other variable has been the inconsistency shown by Gordon’s team. While he’s led the third most laps of any driver this season, he has just two top-five and six top-10 finishes in the first 17 races to show for it.
With that kind of up-and-down performance, it’s possible to see him win a couple of races and still land outside the top 20 in points.
Six drivers look to be sure bets of making the Chase at this point.
Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rank 1-4 in the standings and they are the only drivers who have over 600 points.
All four of them could miss the next race and still be ahead of fifth-place Denny Hamlin in the points. Hamlin is locked in with two wins and no danger of falling outside the top 20 in points.
The other sure bet is Keselowski, whose third win gives him plenty of margin for error. He is 120 points ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, the 21st ranked driver in the standings.
The scramble is going to be for the final few spots, and Gordon will have to make one terrific rally to land in one of those positions.
n Dale Ball won the first of two Pro Late Model features at the Walter Ball Memorial at Volunteer Speedway this past Saturday night.
The Johnson City driver was the Super Late Model track champion in 1999 and added Pro Late Model titles to his credit in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Along with legendary father, Walter, they are the only father-son tandem in Volunteer Speedway history to have captured Late Model championships. Walter, who passed away in 2006 at age 70 while attending a night of racing at Volunteer Speedway,
recorded over 400 Late Model victories and multiple championships at various tracks during his career.
In the first feature, Dale Ball grabbed the lead over Jonesborough’s Jerry Broyles racing off turn two in and never looked back en route to capture his sixth victory of the season.
Ricky Moore of Greeneville passed Broyles for second on lap 2, and they ran 1-2 to the end of the race.
Broyles was on the pole for the second feature and it quickly became a two-man race between him and Greeneville’s John Tweed. Broyles held off Tweed for the win, while Tim Byrd of Jonesborough, Moore and Tim Maupin of Johnson City rounded out the top five.
Ball finished seventh in the second race, and moved one step closer to his third consecutive Pro Late Model title.
Dale Reed of Mooresburg pulled off the sweep in a pair of Modified Hobby features. He held off Jonesborough’s Jon Cook to win the first race, and then beat defending track champion Jamie Whitt in the nightcap.
Brandon Johnson of Talbott won by a few feet over Brad Dyer in a closely-contested Mini Stock feature.
Volunteer Speedway will be taking this Saturday off before hosting the Fastrak Pro Late Model tour on July 14.
n Paul Nogradi Jr. of Clinton has been one of the frontrunners at Kingsport Speedway all season.
He finally put together a winning effort this past Friday night, leading flag-to-flag in the 60-lap, NASCAR All-American Series Late Model Stock feature.
Track points leader Nate Monteith set fast-time in qualifying, but with the top five from time trails inverted, Lee Tissot of Asheville started from the pole with Nogradi on the outside of the front row.
Nogradi, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at the University of Tennessee, powered past Tissot on the backstretch of the opening lap and never relinquished the lead.
Monteith charged from his fifth-place start and eventually passed Tissot for second. Behind those three, Blake Jones of Sevierville and Ryan Stiltner of Grundy, Va., rounded out the top five.
Johnson City’s Zeke Shell was sixth and maintained his second-place in the points, while Jonesborough’s Robbie Ferguson finished seventh.
In the preliminary races, Roger Neece of Clintwood, Va., passed Jared Broadbent of Spruce Pine, N.C., for the Street Stock victory. Tyler Goodwin of Kingsport won for the 13th time in 15 Legends starts, Jason Ketron of Kingsport captured his fourth Pure 4 victory of the season, and Jimmy Hillard of Knoxville took his second Rookie Pure 4 victory.
Another weekly racing program, as well as a special fireworks show, is scheduled for Kingsport Speedway this Friday night.
n Bristol Dragway hosted Fun Ford Weekend with Will McKay of Rockingham, N.C., racing his Thunderbird to a win in the Fast Ford Class.
Richard Newman won the Quick Ford class, while Danny Cole of Newland, N.C., won the Street Ford category in a 1972 Mustang. He beat Elizabethton’s Justin Pierce, driving a 1988 Thunderbird, in the final.
The Taco Bell Street Fights are scheduled Thursday at Bristol Dragway. The DER Bracket Series Racing will host a test-and tune session on Friday, with racing scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.