Injuries, penalties and appeals setting up dramatic summer for the Sprint Cup Series

Jared C. Tilton

Injuries, penalties and appeals have drastically altered the Sprint Cup standings over the past few weeks. Will it dictate who makes the Chase for the Championship this season?

A wild and dramatic start to the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has left one driver indefinitely injured and several others reeling from penalties that have included the suspension of crew chiefs and docked championship standing points.

So while Jimmie Johnson has gapped the field to the tune of nearly a full race over Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski, several other big name drivers have found themselves in a deep hole in regard to making the Chase for the Championship after just eight races.

Due to the massive penalty he received on Wednesday, Matt Kenseth has dropped from eighth in the standings to 14th, the result of a tremendous 50-point deduction. That's more than one driver can even earn in a single race.

His teammate Denny Hamlin is also seemingly out of contention after suffering a fractured back at Auto Club Speedway and missing four races, dropping him to 26th, 95 points out of the top 10.

Two weeks ago Joey Logano was sitting comfortably in the top 10 but his own 25-point penalty from Texas plus an accident with Kyle Busch at Kansas leaves what was a sure-fire Chase contender to the fringes of even wild card eligibility.

There are several others outside alongside them for a variety of reasons, including Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart -- combined winners of seven Sprint Cup championships -- reeling from misfortune and still hoping to turn their own seasons around.

And each of the stories are about to come to a head as the summer heats up and the Chase approaches.

The top 12 currently has some surprise names, most notably Paul Menard and Aric Almirola, who were not expected to compete consistently in 2013. (At least, I didn't pick them to make the Chase in my preseason predictions post.)

It's still relatively early in the season and team appeals may improve or further degrade the Logano and Kenseth situations.

But one fact has been made absolutely clear in the first two months of the season, and that is the idea that nothing is set in stone. The new Gen-6 car and the pursuit of a few tenths of a second has generated the most exciting Race to the Chase in recent memory, and the season is just getting started.

The Richmond fall race may well feature several championship-caliber teams outside the top 10 seeking just one more victory to secure a wild card or to break into the top-10, and that's ultimately a victory for everyone invested in the sport.

For the sake of argument, the current Sprint Cup standings can be found by clicking this link. How do you think the Penske and Gibbs penalties will play out, and who do you think will make up the final field in the 2013 Chase for the Championship? Tell us in the comments section below.

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