Winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been the dream of driver Paul Menard. On Sunday Menard made that a reality as he pulled off an improbably victory.
Menard became the fourth driver to win his first race this year joining the likes of Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, and David Ragan. Three of those four drivers along with Brad Keselowski are eligible to make the Sprint Cup Chase, NASCAR’s version of a playoff, provided they remain in the top-20 in points. (Bayne being the exception since he is running for Nationwide points) The only other obstacle is they need to be one of two drivers with the most points among drivers 11-20th in the standings.
At Indianapolis the wild cards changed again. Leading the most laps in his career Paul Menard played the fuel mileage game and had just enough of a lead to keep Jeff Gordon, a four time winner at Indy, in the mirror. The win put Menard in the second wild card spot joining Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin has a nice cushion over Menard and the other drivers who could take advantage of the wild card. In fact he’s closer to moving into the top-10 then he is to falling behind Menard.
Menard is the current favorite for the second wild card spot. If Hamlin moves into the top-10 another spot opens up which could only help him make the Chase. Regan Smith is marred back in 26th in points, 102 points behind Menard. Brad Keselowki is still trying to crack the top-20 as well. He’s a bit closer but is still 16 points out of 20th. Right now neither driver is eligible for the Chase since they are not in the top-20.
David Ragan saw his wild card chances take a hit with Menard’s win. Ragan had been in the second wild card spot but with Menard’s win finds himself 7 points out of the second spot right now.
Both drivers could see themselves in the Chase or not at all. Remember that Richmond is the last race before the Chase starts and Denny Hamlin has practically owned that place in recent years. If he maintains where he is now and pulls out a win there it’s likely he would move into the top-10 in points possibly at the expense of Dale Earnhardt Jr or Tony Stewart. If Hamlin was to move into the top-10 and knock Ryan Newman out then Newman would still be eligible for a wild card spot.
One thing we do know is that Marcos Ambrose’s shot at the Chase, which really depended on him winning at Watkins Glen, is all but over. Ambrose finds himself behind too many names on the list of wild cards. Juan Pablo Montoya is 20th in the points, even a win for him would just allow him to catch up.
It’s confusing that’s for sure. Last year would have provided a dull battle for the wild card spots with Jamie McMurray getting in and Ryan Newman making the Chase simply by having the next most points. This year we have a battle for a guy to move into the top-10, and with two spots potentially up for grabs as a wild card. It seems we won’t know much until the last lap at Richmond for sure.