WHEN NASCAR launched the Chase for the Championship concept 8 years ago, the idea was to create drama in the season's final stages. The plan worked. Last year, NASCAR expanded the Chase to 12 drivers, adding two wild cards. More suspense.
The Chase field features the top 10 in points after 26 races, plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th place with the most wins. With two races remaining before the Chase starts, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch hold the wild cards.
Here are the wild-card standings, with wins in parentheses and the points out of 10th place:
11. Kasey Kahne (2) -16
12. Carl Edwards (0) -34
13. Kyle Busch (1) -39
14. Jeff Gordon (1) 55
15. Ryan Newman (1) -58
16. Marcos Ambrose (1) -67
17. Paul Menard (0) -72
18. Joey Logano (1) -108
Should Carl Edwards miss the Chase, a year after finishing runner-up to Tony Stewart for the title, it will be crushing disappointment. Edwards hasn't won a race since Las Vegas, the third event on the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule.
At Bristol Saturday night, Edwards led 45 laps in the race before fading to 22nd.
"We stayed out on old tires and low on fuel," Edwards said Wednesday on a conference call. "We realized we did not have a race-winning car, so we used a pretty optimistic strategy to put ourselves up front and then not pit while the guys pitted for fuel and tires.
"I pretty much made the call. It turned out to be the wrong call because we ran out of fuel. I stayed out hoping for more cautions. Those are the types of things you have to [do to] win.
"It definitely would have been better to just come for fuel, and I think we'd be closer to the 10th place in points. But I think there was some value to do it even if it cost us some in the points."
Heading to Atlanta for Sunday night's race, Edwards is confident, because he is a three-time winner at the big oval.
Meanwhile, Edwards, who is in his first year with Roush Fenway Racing, dismissed a rumor that he wants out so that he can join Penske Racing next season. Roger Penske wants to replace driver A.J. Allmendinger, and is thought to be close to signing Joey Logano.
And the winner of this week's NASCAR boys-will-be-boys helmet toss is: Tony "Smoke" Stewart.
After Stewart and Matt Kenseth wrecked at Bristol, a furious Stewart threw his racing helmet at Kenseth's car and threatened to run him over every chance he gets. Three consecutive poor finishes have dropped Stewart to 10th in the standings.
"I'm a little confused [by Stewart's actions]," Kenseth said. "I was running the top [of the track] leading and he got a run and he went into Turn 1 like I wasn't there and just went straight to the fence. If I wouldn't have lifted, like he chose not to do the next corner, we would have wrecked, so I let him have it and I got a run back, drove all the way alongside of him and we just kept going.
"Tony is probably the greatest race-car driver in the garage. I don't really have anything bad to say about Tony. On the racetrack, for years and years, we've had tons of respect for each other. For whatever reason this year, he ran me off the track at Sears Point and said he was sorry. At Indy, he was mad, because he said I blocked him. I asked for 5 minutes of his time to clear the air and he wouldn't give it to me."
Earlier this week, Stewart had calmed down, saying he doesn't plan to "seek out" Kenseth on the track.
Points leader Greg Biffle has no problem with Stewart's actions.
"I completely agree with NASCAR about not penalizing the guy for throwing his helmet," Biffle said. "We got a little carried away on trying to be too proper, in America all together. We're too politically correct, we can't make anybody mad.
"Throwing a helmet, you're hot under the collar, you're expressing your displeasure for the guy. As long as it doesn't get carried away, as long as it's not dangerous."
Carl Edwards took a lighter approach.
"Throwing the helmet is reasonable if you're mad," Edwards said. "One thing I learned watching the video, I will not be throwing helmets when the car is that close to me. If that helmet had glanced back and hit [Stewart], that would have been bad. Stand a little farther away when you throw the helmet, so if it bounces straight back at you, you have a little time. That would have been just been real bad if it bounced back and hit him in the face."
If Stewart's helmet had struck him in the face that really would've made him angry, and embarrassed him.
The course for the second Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday has been altered. Faster speeds are expected in the Izod IndyCar series after the chicane on the main straightaway on Pratt Street was removed and Turn 1 was widened.
The 12-turn Baltimore course is flanked by the Inner Harbor and Orioles Park at Camden Yards.
Team Penske driver Will Power won last year's inaugural 75-lap Baltimore race. Power leads teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay by 36 points. One race remains on the IndyCar schedule after Baltimore.
The race will be carried on the NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. An American LeMans series race is scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m.. For details, go to www.RaceOnBaltimore.com.
Pocono races set
Pocono Raceway announced is 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, with the Pocono 400 set for June 9 and the Pennsylvania 400 on Aug. 4. The ARCA Racing Series' Pocono 200 will take place June 8, while NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series and ARCA will race on Aug. 3.
THIS WEEK'S RACE
Atlanta Motor Speedway Hampton, Ga.
When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WNPV (1440-AM)
Race course: 1.54-mile oval
Race distance: 325 laps/500 miles
Race forecast: Isolated showers, low 80s
Last year's winner: Jeff Gordon
Last year's pole winner: Kasey Kahne, 186.196 mph
Track qualifying record: Geoff Bodine, 197.478 mph (November 1997)
Track facts: Jeff Gordon led the most laps (146), including the last 38, in winning last year's race. Jimmie Johnson was runner-up; Tony Stewart was third. Gordon's victory was his fifth at the track, second most among full-time active drivers. Bobby Labonte is a six-time winner at Atlanta (last W 2003). Johnson, Stewart, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards are three-time winners at the track . . . Danica Patrick is entered . . . The last 11 races have been won by 11 different drivers . . . In Marcos Ambrose's last three races, he has finished first and fifth twice.
1. Greg Biffle 849
2. Jimmie Johnson 838
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 834
4. Matt Kenseth 823
5. Martin Truex Jr. 797
6. Clint Bowyer 794
7. Brad Keselowski 790
8. Denny Hamlin 774
9. Kevin Harvick 767
10. Tony Stewart 746
11. Kasey Kahne 730
12. Carl Edwards 712
Wins: Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, 3 each; Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, 2 each; Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, 1 each.
Up next: Federated Auto Parts 400, Sept. 8, Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Va., 7:30 p.m.; TV: Ch. 6; last year's winner: Kevin Harvick.