NASCAR & Auto Racing

Chasers needing fortunes to reverse

Two races ago, after Dover, Del., 75 points separated first from eighth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings. Going into Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon is 260 points ahead of eighth-place Kyle Busch.

So if the standings can go from where they were after Dover to where they are now in two races, can't they go back just as fast? After all, there are six races left.

The answer, mathematically, is yes. In practical terms, anybody further back than the 154 points by which fourth-place Tony Stewart trails Gordon is going to need a lot of help to get back into contention.

If you pull for somebody else, you can cling to hope that Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson, who's nine points out of first, will have to race each other so fervently they won't be able to protect the gap that has opened between them and third-place Clint Bowyer, who's 63 points back.

Remember April 1 at Martinsville, Va., where they banged bumpers repeatedly as Johnson held off Gordon for the win? Battles like that stress the best of friendships, and a tight title race between two teams that literally share the same shop at Hendrick Motorsports could get feisty.

"We're very fierce competitors, trust me," Gordon said. "We love to beat one another and race one another. One of the first things I told Jimmie when he was coming to (Hendrick) is that we're good enough friends and we have similar personalities that no matter what happens on the race track, we should be able to always get through it and put it aside off the track."

We'll see if it comes down to that, and a pessimistic fan of any other driver might think that's where we're headed.

The odds seem to be against the possibility that Gordon and Johnson will falter often the rest of the way. Only Aug. 25 at Bristol, Tenn., and at Dover two races ago have Gordon and Johnson both failed to make the top 10. Between them, they have 11 victories and 43 top-10s this year.

This week is a major hurdle for Gordon. After getting his 80th victory Sunday at Talladega, Ala., he comes to a track where he got his first Cup victory, but it hasn't been kind to him recently. In Gordon's past five Lowe's Motor Speedway starts, his average finish is 33.8.

Johnson finished 39th in his first race here, his Cup debut Oct. 7, 2001, but he hasn't finished outside the top 10 in 11 starts since. He's won five times and was second to Kasey Kahne last Oct. 14 to ignite a late surge to his first title.

Gordon likely will need to break his recent trend here or risk losing ground that will be hard to make up.

Bowyer and Stewart already face an uphill fight, and anybody behind them is going to need to see Gordon and Johnson run into the same kind of missteps and misfortune that has spaced things out over the past two weeks.

Six races still leave a lot of miles to go.

While Kansas and Talladega showed just about anything can happen, that doesn't necessarily mean it will.

Race Week Highlights

This week at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Complete schedule.

THURSDAY, 7:10 p.m.: Nextel Cup Series qualifying

FRIDAY, 8:16 p.m.: Busch Series Dollar General 300

SATURDAY, 7:46 p.m.: Nextel Cup Bank of America 500

FOR TICKETS: lowesmotorspeedway.com or 800-455-FANS

COMING THURSDAY: Special section previewing the race.

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