NASCAR – Chevy Rock & Roll 400, Richmond International Raceway – Sat Sep 6

After a day’s delay because of tropical storm Hanna passing through, the final NASCAR Race for the Chase took place in perfect conditions, sunshine and blue skies making you wonder what all the fuss had been about the previous day.

With no qualifying sessions possible, the field got underway in points order and Kyle Busch quickly got a good lead. But he lost that lead on lap 29 to Kevin Harvick, and second shortly afterwards to Dale Earnhardt Jr, before the competition yellow came out on lap 35 as promised so that the teams could check tyre wear.

Kyle had poor pit stops this week – at one point losing seven places in the pits and tumbling to 10th – but his major problems started on laps 212 when contact with Earnhardt Jr tipped him into a spin – the highly partisan crowd loved that touch of quid pro quo between the two bitter rivals. That put him a lap down and was compounded by a second spin on lap 241 coming off turn 2 in a cloud of smoke. He eventually got his lap back thanks to a lucky dog, and climbed as high as 13th before falling back to 15th by the end of the day but was never a serious contender again after that.

Carl Edwards was another leading driver to have a poor day; he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 74 with a suspected tyre going down. He had been running 9th but went a lap down and had to battle hard to make it up to 13th at the chequered. He never threatened the lead.

For much of the early race, that lead was dominated by Earnhardt Jr, Harvick and Denny Hamlin, with Jimmie Johnson lurking close behind but not inclined to make a move for the front, and Tony Stewart rising up into the top five after the halfway mark. The yellow on lap 241 brought out by Kyle Busch’s second spin saw half the field come in for pit stops, leaving an unusual line-up at the front: David Reutimann led Mark Martin, Martin Truex, Michael Waltrip and Michael McDowell.

But as hard fought as the battle up front was, this was also a race of the midfielders battling to get into the Chase. The most significant incident of the night arguably came on lap 122, when Chase contenders David Ragan went into a slide into the wall and team mate Matt Kenseth followed him in and collided, causing more damage to both cars that the original impact with the wall alone. With Harvick impressive up front, that put either or both driver under serious danger of not making the cut.

Other yellows came out on:

  • Lap 96: Johnny Sauter slapped the wall coming off Turn 2, getting a flat right from and damage to the side of his car;
  • Lap 103: Michael Waltrip spun in Turn 2 at the restart but did not lose a lap.
  • Lap 115: Greg Biffle slid up to graze the wall, but carried on.
  • Lap 164: Juan Montoya hit the wall and spun coming out of turn 2. Elliott Sadler also spun in an apparently unrelated incident, seemingly with a front right puncture. He would bring out a second yellow on lap 226 with more flat tyres.
  • Lap 201: Sam Hornish Jr. spun after making contact with Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 4. Edwards got the free pass to get back on the lead lap during the caution period.
  • Lap 298: Brian Vickers got high up the track and brushed the wall with a flat tyre. He himself earned a black flag for being judged to have intentionally slowed up and forced the yellow when he could have maintained pace, and he lost two laps as a result. During the ensuing pit stops, Hornish exited the pits only to have his left rear tyre detach itself again.
  • Lap 314: Several cars spun coming off Turn 2, including Carl Edwards, Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott after Labonte got loose, spun down the track and collected the others. This was the yellow that saw Busch get the free pass and get back on the lead lap.
  • Lap 358: Scott Riggs spun but continued on without damage; it did however allow the field to come in for their final pit stops of the day.
  • Lap 369: Paul Menard backed into the wall and did significant damage to his rear end, after Patrick Carpentier got loose on the inside and set both cars spinning. That was the 14th and final yellow of the race.

Reutimann had lost the lead to Tony Stewart even before the final pit stops.  After those final stops, Truex was leading ahead of Johnson, but Jimmie made his move immediately the green flag flew and got past Truex within the first lap – quickly followed by Stewart who took up second and Earnhardt in 3rd.

Now it was the final sprint to the chequered flag, and Tony Stewart gave it his all, claiming the inside track for his own and forcing Johnson into an unaccustomed high line that looked dangerously close to disaster at times – but which proved to be an even faster line than the one he had been taking till then. Once he got his car in front of the number 20 of Stewart, he couldn’t be touched: Jimmie Johnson took the win, and his current pace and form looks set to boost him to the front of the final ten-lap chase for the Spring Cup from here.

Behind Johnson and Stewart, Hamlin managed to pass Earnhardt Jr for 3rd, while Kevin Harvick managed to deliver on his early race pace by finishing in 7th – securing him the 11th spot in the Chase.

Despite his crash with team mate David Ragan on lap 121, and ending up finishing a distant 39th with a very poorly handling car thereafter, Matt Kenseth also made the Chase. “I’m glad we’re in,” said Kenseth. “I mean, it was a disappointing day. I was pretty much in the way of everybody all day. I was pretty much a rolling chicane after David (Ragan) spun in front of me and then as soon as he spun, I spun and didn’t really have anywhere to go.” But Ragan’s 32nd place left him two places why of a coveted place in the top twelve.

Clint Bowyer was also confirmed for the Chase, after finishing 11th, while the biggest casualty from the final 12 was undoubtedly two-time race winner and All-Star champion Kasey Kahne. He finished 19th, but it wasn’t enough. “We needed to win,” Kahne said. “We needed to do a little bit better than what we did. We tried hard, we gave it our best shot, the team did a great job all day. I drove as hard as we possibly could, and ended up where we ended up. We’ll keep working. We’ll keep getting better and hopefully be even more prepared and better next season.”

His omission leaves Dodge as the only manufacturer without drivers in the series ‘play-off’ despite three Dodge drivers winning races this year, including Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman. It’s the first time Dodge have failed to make the cut since 2004.

Race result:

Pos  Driver              Car        Laps
 1.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  400
 2.  Tony Stewart        Toyota     400
 3.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota     400
 4.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet  400
 5.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet  400
 6.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  400
 7.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  400
 8.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  400
 9.  David Reutimann     Toyota     400
10.  Kurt Busch          Dodge      400
11.  Casey Mears         Chevrolet  400
12.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  400
13.  Carl Edwards        Ford       400
14.  Greg Biffle         Ford       400
15.  Kyle Busch          Toyota     400
16.  Martin Truex Jr     Chevrolet  400
17.  Travis Kvapil       Ford       400
18.  David Gilliland     Ford       400
19.  Kasey Kahne         Dodge      400
20.  Michael McDowell    Toyota     400
21.  Bobby Labonte       Dodge      400
22.  Dave Blaney         Toyota     400
23.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet  400
24.  Kyle Petty          Dodge      400
25.  Patrick Carpentier  Dodge      400
26.  Reed Sorenson       Dodge      400
27.  Ken Schrader        Toyota     400
28.  Michael Waltrip     Toyota     400
29.  Jamie McMurray      Ford       400
30.  Juan Montoya        Dodge      400
31.  Scott Riggs         Chevrolet  400
32.  David Ragan         Ford       400
33.  Ryan Newman         Dodge      399
34.  Paul Menard         Chevrolet  399
35.  Bill Elliott        Ford       399
36.  Brian Vickers       Toyota     398
37.  Elliott Sadler      Dodge      398
38.  Sam Hornish Jr      Dodge      398
39.  Matt Kenseth        Ford       398
40.  Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet  398
41.  Johnny Sauter       Chevrolet  397
42.  Robby Gordon        Dodge      392
43.  AJ Allmendinger     Toyota     335

Sprint Cup points standings:

Pos Driver  Points
1   Kyle Busch          5080
2   Carl Edwards        5050
3   Jimmie Johnson      5040
4   Denny Hamlin        5010
5   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  5010
6   Clint Bowyer        5010
7   Jeff Burton         5010
8   Tony Stewart        5000
9   Greg Biffle         5000
10  Jeff Gordon         5000
11  Kevin Harvick       5000
12  Matt Kenseth        5000

----------------------------

13  Kasey Kahne         3047
14  David Ragan         3039
15  Brian Vickers       2854
16  Ryan Newman         2853
17  Martin Truex Jr.    2818
18  Jamie McMurray      2659
19  Kurt Busch          2622
20  Bobby Labonte       2497
21  Juan Pablo Montoya  2487
22  Elliott Sadler      2477
23  Travis Kvapil       2477
24  Casey Mears         2434
25  David Reutimann     2427
26  David Gilliland     2364
27  Mark Martin         2270
28  Paul Menard         2202
29  Reed Sorenson       2022
30  Michael Waltrip     2009
31  Dave Blaney         1998
32  Robby Gordon        1948
33  Sam Hornish Jr.     1942
34  Regan Smith         1930
35  Scott Riggs         1912
36  Patrick Carpentier  1603
37  A.J. Allmendinger   1526
38  Joe Nemechek        1486
39  Michael McDowell    1303
40  J.J. Yeley          1263

Constructors:

Pos Constructor Points
1   Toyota      165
2   Chevrolet   147
3   Ford        147
4   Dodge       113

The Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off next Sunday at Loudon, New Hampshire.

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