For the third time this season, Carl Edwards stands atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. His third-place finish in Saturday’s Samsung Mobile 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway moved him around Kyle Busch for the lead after seven races. He now leads Busch by nine points, with race winner Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson tied for third, 13 points back. Kurt Busch rounds out the top-five, 16 points back of Edwards.
Texas marked the eighth time in as many races that the man who led the standings after the previous event failed to hold it for a second consecutive week. The stretch started last November at Homestead, when Jimmie Johnson passed Denny Hamlin to record his fifth-straight Sprint Cup title. Johnson wrecked early in the Daytona 500, allowing Edwards to take the lead with his runner-up finish, as Trevor Bayne declared to run for the Nationwide Series title and is ineligable for Sprint Cup driver points. Since then, one thing after another has allowed the lead to change hands after every race.
No doubt, NASCAR’s new point system – where a win is worth 46 points, not counting the default bonus point for leading at least the last lap, second-place is worth 42 points, and from there the payout decreases by one point for every position until reaching the 43rd spot, has had a bit to do with the revolving door atop the standings, but no driver has followed up the race where he took the lead in the standings with a top-ten result.
There were two big losers in the standings Saturday night. Kevin Harvick, seeking to become the first driver to win three races in a row in more than three years, struggled all night to a 20th-place finish, two laps down. He dropped four spots in the standings, from fifth to ninth, but he still sits 19 points ahead of 11th-placed Paul Menard in the race to make the Chase. Even if he falls out of the top-ten, his two victories make him a virtual lock for one of the two wild-card positions, available to the two drivers in positions 11-20 with the most victories.
The other loser was Mark Martin, who was involved in a vicious crash with Martin Truex Jr. and Regan Smith on lap 215. Mark entered the race tenth in points and dropped five spots in the standings to 15th. He sits 24 points behind new tenth-placed driver Tony Stewart.
Kenseth, meanwhile, jumped six spots, up from ninth, with his victory, while runner-up Clint Bowyer gained four positions to climb to twelfth. After a miserable start to the season, Bowyer has reeled off three-straight top-ten finishes and sits just 12 points behind Stewart.
Three other drivers held serve and remained in the top-ten in points. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s resurgence continued, as he climbed two spots up to sixth with his fourth top-ten of the 2011 season. Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya both dropped spots to Earnhardt, but they sit 24 and 23 points ahead of Menard, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the battle to be among the top-35 in owner points and have a guaranteed starting spot, Casey Mears and the No. 13 Germain Racing team gained two spots to climb to 35th position with a 26th-place finish at Texas. They now stand four points ahead of the No. 71 TRG Racing team and rookie Andy Lally. The team that Mears displaced was the No. 37 Front Row Motorsports entry with Tony Raines, who finished 34th after experiencing early mechanical woes.
Failing to qualify for Saturday’s race has Travis Kvapil’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team 31 points outside the top-35 as they head to Talladega. They did qualify for the Daytona 500 on speed, but that car was demolished in an accident.