Updated: July 16, 2012, 11:15 PM ET

Wild-card drama heats up after Kahne's win

Blount By Terry Blount
Osborne/EdwardsJared C. Tilton/Getty Images Carl Edwards, right, and crew chief Bob Osborne have to get busy on "Plan B" if they're going to make the Chase.

Winning really matters.

Isn't that great to hear? There were days in NASCAR's not-too-distant past when that just wasn't true.

It's a fact now. Winning Sunday at New Hampshire probably puts Kasey Kahne in the Chase with his second victory of the season.

Winning at Kentucky two weeks ago probably guaranteed Brad Keselowski a playoff spot with his three victories.

You have to win to get in, and it's so much more impressive than a winless driver sliding into the 12th and final Chase spot by scoring a couple of more points than the guys in 13th. That's the way it once was.

The wild-card rule that NASCAR added to the Chase format last season is a clear success. It forces many drivers to concentrate on winning rather than racing for points.

"Kasey won and good for him," said Keselowski, who finished fifth Sunday. "He's got two wins now, so he's probably got a good shot at the Chase. That's what you've got to do."

The final two spots in the Chase are determined by victories. Now the top 10 get into the Chase, and the next two spots are filled by the next two drivers in the top 20 based on wins. Points come into play to break ties between drivers who have the same number of wins.

Kahne moved into 12th in the points standings with his victory Sunday, which would have placed him inside the cutoff in the old system. However, his spot is more secure in this format than it was in the one based strictly on points. Drivers below him in the standings need to win.

A driver with one victory, like Ryan Newman, needs to win again and hope he gains enough points to pass Kahne in the standings. A winless driver below Kahne in the standings -- Jeff Gordon, for example -- needs two victories in seven races to possibly knock Kahne out.

Not likely, but Gordon still could earn one wild-card spot if he wins once and moves up in the standings. Top-10 finishes, as Gordon had Sunday with a sixth-place effort, just aren't good enough.

"It was just a disappointing day when you look at what our goals are right now," Gordon said afterward. "We've got to be up there battling for wins if we are going to make this Chase, and then get those wins."

Carl Edwards, who would be inside the cutoff in the old system, is 11th and on the outside looking in because he hasn't won a race. He finished 18th Sunday.

"We'll go back to the shop and get a real war plan," Edwards said. "I say war plan because I think it's gonna be tough, but we've got to plan for the next seven races. We can do it, though, and now we've just got to get it done."

The plan is simple. Edwards has to win. In his case, one victory might be enough, or it might not. Three drivers below him in the standings -- Kyle Busch, Newman and Joey Logano -- have a victory. If one of them wins again before the playoff starts, winless drivers like Edwards and Gordon probably are doomed.

Busch is 13th in the standings, but holds down the final wild-card spot for now with the most points among the one-win drivers outside the top 10.

Give me the guy who won a race over the guy who didn't, every time. But the system is fair because drivers still can make the Chase by racing consistently well without winning.

Kevin Harvick (sixth in the standings) and Martin Truex Jr. (eighth) both are winless, but appear to be safely inside the Chase field because they have raced near the front most of the season.

I would make a tweak or two to emphasize winning even more, like a few more points for the winner each week. But overall, the wild-card format is one of NASCAR's best decisions in years.

The entire mindset of most teams has switched from points racing to winning. Even with two victories now for Kahne, crew chief Kenny Francis said the plan hasn't changed.

"I think strategically you've still got to keep racing to win," Francis said after the victory. "Wins are important. That's why we're here. I don't really have any strategy other than, 'Let's go try to win the next one.'"

David Newton column: Kahne brings his hammer to work | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Harvick, Amber Cope start a feud

Kevin Harvick gave Danica Patrick a compliment after the Nationwide race Saturday at New Hampshire, but he also started a war of words with Amber Cope.

Brad Keselowski passed Harvick late in the race and went on to win because Harvick felt Cope (many laps down) got in his way.

"It's somebody who shouldn't be on the race track and has no clue what they're doing in a race car," Harvick said. "She wants to be Danica Patrick, but she can't hold her helmet."

Cope was not pleased and lit into Harvick on a Twitter page she shares with her twin sister, Angela.

"Just bc u say it does not make it right!!!" Amber tweeted. "Mr @kevinharvick...where should I go? I will take the apologies Monday! ASS!"

Cope also posted a video of the incident, which she feels proves she had nowhere to go.

Cope, 28, is the niece of former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope. Angela also races in NASCAR.

I'll give Amber credit for the fact she still was on the track trying to compete at the end, which is more than I can say for 10 drivers Saturday who went to the house without completing 10 laps.

Brant James: Danica falls short | Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Peters rolls in Iowa

With his victory Saturday in Iowa, Timothy Peters now has won a race in each of his four seasons as a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

He also has improved his spot in the standings each season. This year, that improvement may take him to the championship. Peters, 31, now holds down the top spot by 12 points over Justin Lofton.

Peters has a series-best six top-5s in nine races. Rookie Ty Dillon, who is third in the standings, only 14 points back, is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in every event this year.

Recap | Results

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.


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