The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway this weekend is the second in the Chase playoffs, and with the standings as tight as they are right now, the action on the track could be a bit more intense than usual.


Race fans heading to Dover International Speedway this weekend will be treated to racing that’s a little more exciting than the norm, as the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup is in full swing, and the standings are tighter than ever.

With only 161 points separating the 12 Chase drivers, every finishing position will matter when the field of 43 hits the track at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27.

Mark Martin currently sits in the lead with 5,230 points, but is closely followed by Jimmie Johnson, 5,195, and Denny Hamlin, 5,195.

When the Sprint Cup Series rolled into Dover for its May 31 race, Johnson walked away with the win on the Monster Mile.

The 50-year-old Martin won the first of the 10-race Chase series Sept. 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his fifth win of the season.

Rounding out the top 10 of that race was six of the other 12 Chase drivers, with four other drivers finishing in the top 20.

The lowest finishing Chase driver was Kasey Kahne in the 38th position, which put him last in the Chase standings with 5,069 points, 161 behind Martin, not an insurmountable deficit at all.

Kurt Busch, who is sitting in fifth place in the standings with 5,165 points, said top-10 finishes are more important than ever, as consistency could be what wins a driver the Cup.

“Consistency plays a huge roll in this Chase,” Busch said during a Sept. 22 phone press conference. “It just depends if somebody’s getting hot and winning all these races and pulling away from the pack or catching back up like Kasey Kahne finds himself.

“We finished sixth [Sept. 20],” he added. “If we can carry sixth every Sunday, I would say that we’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”

Despite jumping out to an early lead in the playoff series, Martin said at a press conference following last week’s race that he is not going to get ahead of himself as the drivers are all so close in the standings and with nine races still to go everything can change.

“You can’t win one race or have a DNF and think that that one outcome is going to change everything,” he said. “Whether we did really good at Loudon or not so good, I was still going to leave that track knowing that was only 10%.”

Martin added he expected a lot to be made of last weekend’s race, but even with more defined standings following the tilt things still are not so easy to read.

“The reality is that you can’t start getting a clear picture of the outcome of all of this until about four races to go,” he said. “So winning was incredible, and I’m glad that we got to experience that, but I don’t think it’s telling of what the next nine races will bring.”

Based on the year Martin’s had, he’s the odds-on favorite to walk away with the Sprint Cup after the last race Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami.

But Martin has said he does not see himself as the favorite, and is looking toward Denny Hamlin, the hottest driver in NASCAR over the past month, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who he’s called the most dangerous driver in the Chase, as the two to look out for.

Montoya, following last weekend’s race, said he was flattered by Martin’s compliment, but added that Martin has proved he’s the leader of the pack up to this point.

“He keeps saying that, but I think he’s the most dangerous guy. He’s the guy with the most experience here,” he said. “He hasn’t won a championship and he wants one pretty bad.”

With the standings so close, Martin said things could get a little more intense on the track with drivers taking risks they may not normally attempt.

“When you have as much at stake as we have, you know, it pushes you to slip over the edge,” he said.

However, Martin added that he won’t change his “nice-guy” approach to the track and that spectators should not expect to see anything out of the ordinary from him.

“I don’t anticipate doing anything different in these next nine weeks than I have in my entire career,” he said. “Winning is winning, whether it’s in the Chase or not in the Chase. And if I was 26th and racing for 25th place, I would have raced just like I did for first and second.

“I don’t anticipate anything changing for me at all.”

Email Brian Citino at brian.citino@doverpost.com

If you go…
What: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ AAA 400
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27
Where: Dover International Speedway
Tickets: $50 to $96
More info: Visit www.doverspeedway.com

If you go…
What: NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26
Where: Dover International Speedway
Tickets: Adults, $47 to $52; children younger than 12, $8
More info: Visit www.doverspeedway.com

CHASE STANDINGS
Driver                              Points    Behind
Mark Martin                     5,230         —
Jimmie Johnson            5,195       -35
Denny Hamlin                5,195       -35
Juan Pablo Montaya     5,175       -55
Kurt Busch                       5,165       -65
Tony Stewart                   5,156       -74
Ryan Newman                5,151       -79
Brian Vickers                   5,140       -90
Greg Biffle                        5,138       -92
Jeff Gordon                      5,128       -102
Carl Edwards                   5,117       -113
Kasey Kahne                   5,069        -161