The eyes of the auto racing world will be in Indianapolis on Sunday, but the eyes of TheSportsNotebook are still focused on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The circuit will be in Charlotte for the second consecutive week, with the running of the Coca-Cola 600 (7 PM ET, Fox).
This is the first points race in two weeks—last week’s event in Charlotte was a non-binding All-Star competition, and a driver that offers some intrigue right now is David Ragan. He’s well behind in the points standing sitting on 26th, but he also has a win. Ragan is the only driver outside the Top 10 with a win and that alone makes him a factor for the postseason discussion.
Let’s take a brief step back and summarize the postseason qualification for people who may just casually follow NASCAR or are new readers to TheSportsNotebook. The top ten drivers qualify automatically. Then there are two wild-cards spot taken. It’s not necessarily #11 or #12 that go—the first criteria is outright wins, and in the event of a tie, then points is used to settle the spot.
That makes Ragan being the only non-Top 10 driver with a win significant, but there is one hitch the driver has to overcome. To be eligible for wild-card consideration you have to rank at least 20th in the points standing and right now Ragan is 26th, 61 points out of eligibility.
“That’s not all that much,” said our resident NASCAR junkie, my brother Bill, when I asked him about Ragan’s point deficit. “If he can just have a string of Top 10s he can make that up.”
Therein lies the problem for Ragan. He’s been consistent, but it’s consistently ranking 20th or lower. Forget the Top 20 overall—in 10 of 11 races, the Ragan has been outside the top 20 in every individual race. The one exception, of course, was his win at Talladega.
Furthermore, Talladega is a super speedway that’s known for its unpredictability. The fact this is the only place Ragan has ran well doesn’t speak positively about his ability to be consistent. Furthermore, Ragan has been a full-time driver since 2007 and only once has he finished in the final Top 20.
Nonetheless, Ragan has the chip he earned at Talladega and until some of the other wild-card possibilities get one of their own, he has to be kept in the playoff discussion.
SUNDAY NIGHT IN CHARLOTTE
Charlotte Motor Speedway—also known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway—picked up the nickname as the House of Jimmy Johnson, thanks to the circuit’s marquee driver winning five times in six races here from 2003-05. But recent years have seen balance, and Johnson has won only once in the nine races Charlotte has hosted since 2008. And there have been some unexpected winners in that time frame, from Jamie McMurray to David Reutimann.
Johnson shares the favorite’s role with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, each at 6-1, with Denny Hamlin right behind at 7-1. Kasey Kahne is an 8-1 shot, and then Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon are all slotted at 12-1. There seems to be a lack of respect for Keselowski and Edwards, given the former is last year’s champion and the latter is running second in the points standings.
And if you want a real longshot, David Ragan is 100-1—another upset win would really turn the postseason picture on its head.