Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Sprint Cup's chase to make Chase getting tighter

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Greg Biffle is back at Michigan International Speedway, where he has won the past two Sprint Cup races. It should be a comfortable spot — but then Biffle analyzes the standings.

"We are in the middle of the bees' nest, and we understand that," he said. "All we can do is get the best finishes we can the next four weeks."

Biffle is ninth in the standings, and he's not the only one in a precarious position as NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Championship approaches. Starting with today's Pure Michigan 400, there are four races before the Chase, with the top 10 drivers qualifying along with two wild cards.

Even defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski isn't secure. He's eighth, but only 12 points separate him from 12th-place Kasey Kahne. The gap between Keselowski and No. 16 Joey Logano is only 36 points, and Logano is on the pole today.

Martin Truex is 10th, and he's as unnerved as Biffle — though he picked a different scary insect for his analogy.

"We're kind of in that hornets' nest there, which we've been in for the past month or so," said Truex, who finished third in Michigan in June. "These type of tracks have pretty much been what we've been our best on the last few years, and hopefully that will be the case again this weekend."

The two drivers between 11th and 20th in point with the most wins earn wild cards. That's why Kahne, who has two victories, is in solid shape. Biffle, Truex and Ryan Newman (14th place) have one win each; Newman goes into today owning the second wild card.

Keselowski, Kurt Busch (11th), Jeff Gordon (13th), Jamie McMurray (15th) and Logano have not won this season.

Biffle's lone win came at MIS, but he has had only two top-10 finishes since. He finished 24th at Indianapolis last month.

"Indy really killed us. That was the turning point for us," he said. "We felt like we were really on some momentum and qualified 27th and finished 24th and never ran better than that all day. That buried us in the points."

Busch, the 2004 Cup champion with Jack Roush Racing, is closing fast in a bid for what would be a surprising Chase spot. He's only two points out of 10th, and starts second today in his first — and perhaps only — full season with Furniture Row Racing.

"We have four weeks to go and we're in great position," he said. "It's been neat to feel the energy from the team."

Busch has top-10s in five of his past seven races, but was 35th at Michigan in June after an early spin.

MIS has been a feast-or-famine experience for Busch. He has two Cup wins there, the most recent in 2007. But in 25 starts, he has finished 30th or lower 11 times.

The stakes are higher now, because of the year Busch is having and the opportunity that could await — read: possibly getting a look at teams with vacancies for 2014, like Earnhardt Ganassi — if he can finish strong in the last few races of the Sprint Cup's regular season.

"Michigan has been real good or real bad. So, if you go by the law of averages I hope this time around is pretty good," Busch said. "I look at this one as the toughest out of the next four weeks — this week here at Michigan. If we get through this, then I think we've got a really good shot at things."

Sprint Cup points

After 22 of 36 races. The top 10 in points plus two wild cards after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship. An asterisk (*) designates current wild-card leaders:

Driver Pts. Back

Jimmie Johnson 808—

Clint Bowyer 733 75

Carl Edwards 728 80

Kevin Harvick 707 101

Kyle Busch 693 115

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 670 138

Matt Kenseth 659 149

Brad Keselowski 634 174

Greg Biffle 627 181

Martin Truex 625 183

Kurt Busch 623 185

Kasey Kahne* 622 186

Jeff Gordon 610 198

Ryan Newman* 605 203

Jamie McMurray 600 208

Today's race

Pure Michigan 400, 1 p.m., Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn TV/radio: ESPN, 102.5-FM

Comments
Shaquem Griffin is about to join a long line of NFL draft picks from Lakewood

Shaquem Griffin is about to join a long line of NFL draft picks from Lakewood

ST. PETERSBURG — Former Lakewood High coach Brian Bruch started each season with the same spiel. He cautioned his players about not becoming obsessed with a professional football career, reciting statistics to emphasize the difficult the odds o...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Wall Street Journal: Baseball in Florida ‘has been a disaster’

Wall Street Journal: Baseball in Florida ‘has been a disaster’

The Rays and Miami Marlins "are at a moment of reckoning" after histories of low attendance and an offseason in which they sold off many of their top players and were singled out by the MLB Players Association for failing to spend revenue-sharing mon...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Former Ohio State, University of Tampa coach Earle Bruce dies

Former Ohio State, University of Tampa coach Earle Bruce dies

Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce, whose nine-year tenure in Columbus came after one season as coach of the University of Tampa's now-defunct program, passed away earlier this morning at age 87.Mr. Bruce reportedly had been battling Alzhei...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays’ Chris Archer ready to move past messy outing tonight against Twins

Rays’ Chris Archer ready to move past messy outing tonight against Twins

Rays RHP Chris Archer goes into tonight's start against the Twins with no trouble moving on from his messy Saturday performance against the Phillies that included arguably the worst inning of his career."It's already gone," Archer said Wednesday...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Memorable off day for Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough

Memorable off day for Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough

Rays rookie LHP Ryan Yarbrough has enjoyed everything about his first major-league experience, from pitching in the games to traveling in top-notch style to getting to play in front of family and friends to seeing his first paycheck.And then the Lake...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

ST. PETERSBURG — An old friend is back in the lineup.The Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Miracle League, which champions baseball for the physically and mentally challenged, returned with a flourish Saturday morning. We're better for it."This...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 6 hours ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 6 hours ago