By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Is it time for Ford to shoot for the moon?
The Blue Oval manufacturer is enjoying a breakthrough season. Led by Team Penske's five victories, Ford drivers have racked up eight wins through 19 races this year--two more than they posted collectively in 36 points-paying events in 2013.
Brad Keselowski's victory on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the fourth straight for Ford, marking the first time since 2001 that the automaker has won four consecutive races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Dale Jarrett accounted for three of those triumphs, at Darlington, Texas and Martinsville, in the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford. Elliott Sadler took a checkered flag for the Wood Brothers at Bristol in the second race of the string.
Ford's streak is even more impressive this time because of the tracks involved: a road course (Carl Edwards at Sonoma), a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway (Keselowski at Kentucky), a restrictor-plate superspeedway (Aric Almirola at Daytona) and a one-mile flat track (Keselowski at New Hampshire).
To keep the streak going, however, Ford drivers will have to reach for and grab the brass ring at 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track unlike any other.
Only one problem. Chevrolet has had an absolute stranglehold on Indy, having won the Sprint Cup race there for the past 11 years.
Does Ford have a realistic chance at breaking the monopoly, or will it simply be a case of tilting at windmills? We'll find out on July 27.
138: The number of laps race winner Brad Keselowski led in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The number is remarkable because Keselowski repeatedly lost track position with four-tire calls and had to drive back to the front.
11: The number of different winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series so far this year. With only seven races left, tension is mounting as the opportunity to qualify for the Chase by winning a race diminishes with each passing event.
3: The number of bonus points added to a driver's total at the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for each race won during the regular season. Those bonus points, however, apply only to the first round of the Chase. When points are reset after the first elimination, bonus points for wins are no longer a factor.
31: The number of laps completed by six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson in the last two races, out of a possible 417. Early crashes took Johnson out of the Cup races at Daytona and Loudon. The last time Johnson had back-to-back DNFs? At Chicagoland and Indy in 2007.
882: The number of laps led this year in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races by Kevin Harvick, who is fast approaching the high-water mark for his career. Driving for Richard Childress Racing in 2006, Harvick led 895 laps and also set a personal best for victories with five.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski have clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, assuming they attempt to qualify for the remaining seven races in the regular season. Both Earnhardt and Keselowski have fulfilled two of the three requirements to guarantee their spot in the Chase -- multiple wins and locking in to the top 30 in points. With Keselowski's third win of the season this past weekend he could be seeded first in the Chase -- each win is worth three Chase bonus points. ... Count it. Five of the 19 NSCS races (26.3%) this season have been won by Team Penske (Keselowski, three; Logano, two). Brad Keselowski's win last weekend at New Hampshire was his third of the season and 13th of his career. Not only did it move Keselowski to third in the regular season points, it clinched him a spot in the Chase, assuming he starts the remaining events on the regular season schedule. Keselowski's teammate Joey Logano, with two wins, is one of six drivers with multiple wins. ... A number of other drivers can join Earnhardt and Keselowski as Chase clinchers. Jeff Gordon has already clinched a top 30 spot, but with a single win has yet to clinch the "wins" portion of the criteria. A win at Indy would clinch him a spot. To clinch a top 30 spot, the clinching driver must be 289 points ahead of 31st place after Indianapolis.
Mixed bag for Team Penske at New Hampshire -- 77-year-old owner earns a big win from Brad Keselowski, and 72-year-old driver earns big rebuke from Joey Logano.
Was it really the best idea to hand Brad Keselowski a broom? I know he swept the weekend and all, but given his history in victory lane, the chances of him getting a giant, painful splinter from that thing were pretty damn high.
Jimmie Johnson's day-ending wreck on lap 15 will significantly reduce the amount of data the #48 team will have for NHMS when they return for the Chase. In fact, their setup notes from this race read as follows: "NOT THAT."
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