Bristol Motor Speedway jumbled the Sprint Cup Series standings, as expected, setting the table for what should be an unpredictable next two weeks as drivers jockey for a spot in the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to maintain a position within the top 10 in points to claim a Chase berth. He did just that by being conservative and minimizing his risk Saturday night, finishing the Irwin Tools Night in 10th place. Earnhardt is now 33 points clear of Brad Keselowski and, barring disaster at Atlanta or Richmond, he should be in the playoffs for a third straight season despite not winning a race this season.
While Earnhardt took a big step to securing a spot in the Chase, a pair of former Cup champions did the opposite.
Defending series champion Keselowski was swept up in a multi-car wreck with 52 laps remaining. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and fellow Chase bubble driver Martin Truex Jr. also were all involved in the crash.
Keselowski finished 30th, falling from ninth in the standings to 11th -- four points out of 10th. 2004 champion Kurt Busch dropped three spots to 12th after a loose wheel and a broken wheel hub ended what had been a strong run.
Climbing into the top 10 in lieu of Keselowski and Busch were Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano after they finished second and fifth at Bristol, respectively.
The next race for NASCAR's top division is Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway followed by the regular season finale Sept. 7 at Richmond International Raceway.
Sprint Cup Series Standings
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||714||-107||0|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.||663||-158||1|
|21||Juan Pablo Montoya||590||-231||0|
|23||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||582||-239||0|