Sprint Cup Chase 2014: NASCAR Standings and Schedule Following Kobalt 400

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IMarch 9, 2014

Brad Keselowski drives during qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Friday, March 7, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

It's still early, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. 

Keselowski followed up his pair of third-place finishes at Daytona and Phoenix with a victory at the Kobalt 400 on Sunday afternoon. After also winning the Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday, the 30-year-old veteran completes the first weekend sweep of his impressive career, per Yahoo! Sports' Kari Van Horn:

Junior, meanwhile, remained atop the Sprint Cup standings by notching his third consecutive top-two finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Of course, it's somewhat of a bittersweet moment for the white-hot Hendrick Motorsports driver, as he had the lead on the white flag but ran out of fuel on the last lap to let the win slip through his fingers.

He and crew chief Steve Letarte summed it up following the race, via Fox Sports' NASCAR Twitter feed:  

It undoubtedly stings, but it hardly takes away from Junior's tremendous start to 2014. After the race, the two standout drivers showed mutual respect for each other via Twitter:

Let's take a look at the updated standings following Sunday's thrilling race from Vegas:

Updated Sprint Cup Standings (March 9)
PositionDriverTeamKobalt 400 FinishPoints
1Dale Earnhardt Jr.Hendrick Motorsports2133
2Brad KeselowskiTeam Penske1132
3Jimmie JohnsonHendrick Motorsports6117
4Joey LoganoTeam Penske4116
5Jeff GordonHendrick Motorsports9115
6Carl EdwardsRoush Fenway Racing5105
7Matt KensethJoe Gibbs Racing10105
8Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs Racing12101
9Ryan NewmanRichard Childress Racing797
10Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs Racing1195

After Junior and Keselowski, things get a little tighter. 

Joey Logano, who entered the day in sixth place, took the pole position in Vegas and ended up jumping two spots after finishing in fourth. He is just behind Jimmie Johnson (who finished sixth in Vegas), and he surpassed Jeff Gordon (ninth) and Kevin Harvick, who was having a strong race but finished in 41st after dealing with brake issues. 

As one fan pointed out, that put the exclamation point on a forgettable day for Harvick and Stewart-Haas racing:

Harvick dropped 10 spots into 14th place in the standings, but he already has an all-important win in Phoenix to fall back on. 

As for Jeff Gordon, the future Hall of Famer may have dropped slightly in the standings, but he accomplished a feat he hadn't done since 2007 and now has an opportunity to make some personal history in Bristol:

Speaking of Bristol, let's take a look at the upcoming Sprint Cup schedule to see what's in store for the drivers:

Upcoming Sprint Cup Schedule
RaceTrackDateTime (ET)Distance (Miles)2013 Winner
Food City 500Bristol Motor SpeedwaySun, March 161 p.m.266.5Kasey Kahne
Auto Club 400Auto Club SpeedwaySun, March 233 p.m.400Kyle Busch
STP 500Martinsville SpeedwaySun, March 301 p.m.263Jimmie Johnson
Duck Commander 500Texas Motor SpeedwaySun, April 63 p.m.501Kyle Busch
Bojangles' Southern 500Darlington RacewaySat, April 126:30 p.m.501.322Matt Kenseth
Toyota Owners 400Richmond International RacewaySat, April 267 p.m.300Kevin Harvick
Aaron's 499Talladega SuperspeedwaySun, May 41 p.m.500.08David Ragan

Since the turn of the century, the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway has, historically, been dominated by the Busch family. Kurt won the race four times from 2002 through 2006, while Kyle has accumulated three more victories at the 266.5-mile race since then. 

If the first three weeks are any indication, though, it's going to be difficult to keep Keselowski or Earnhardt out of the winner's circle.