Big-name NASCAR drivers need to pick up speed in Sprint Cup Series

For some big-name NASCAR drivers, it’s time to get moving.

Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne are among those mired deep in the Sprint Cup Series standings after eight races, and they need to start posting strong finishes if they hope to make NASCAR’s title playoff this fall.

That Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, and Kahne are struggling is especially notable because they drive for stock car racing powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, whose other drivers are five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But as the series heads to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for Saturday night’s Capital City 400, none of the Hendrick drivers has won this year, Gordon is 18th in the point standings and Kahne is 26th.

Kahne, now in his ninth season, moved to Hendrick this year amid much hoopla to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet. He had a terrible start but finished in the top 10 in the last two races in Texas and Kansas, and he’s a former winner at the 0.75-mile Richmond track.

“I feel like the Hendrick cars are as fast as anything here,” Kahne said after the Kansas race. “We just need to put the full race together.”

After the first 26 races of the Cup series’ regular season, NASCAR holds the 10-race Chase for the Cup playoff. The top 10 drivers in points make the Chase, along with two wild-card drivers who have the most wins among those drivers 11th to 20th in the standings.

In other words, there’s still time for Gordon and the others to make the Chase if they can post a couple of victories this summer, even if they’re not in the top 10 in points when the Chase starts Sept. 16.

Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing leads the Cup standings. Martin Truex Jr. is second, 15 points behind, followed by Biffle teammate Matt Kenseth Jr., Earnhardt and Denny Hamlin, last weekend’s winner at Kansas.

Right behind them are Kevin Harvick, Johnson, reigning champion Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Stewart teammate Ryan Newman in 10th.

Hamlin, a Virginia native who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, is a two-time winner at Richmond and his teammate Kyle Busch is a three-time winner there, as are Stewart and Earnhardt.

But it’s Truex, driver of the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, who has raised eyebrows with his strong start this year. Now in his seventh full season, Truex has only one career win but earned top-10 finishes in six of the eight races this year.

“It’s kind of a statement for us that we’re here for the long haul … we’re not just a flash in the pan,” Truex said. “I know our wins are going to come.”

Busch, a perennial front-runner, also is wondering when the next win will arrive. He’s yet to put his No. 18 Toyota in Victory Lane this year, has only one top-five finish and sits 13th in points.

“We haven’t had the runs that we are looking for quite yet,” Busch said, “but I feel like we’re slowly gaining it back.”