NASCAR: Round 29 – Price Chopper 400, Kansas Speedway – 4 October

Mark Martin was once again at the head of the field for this, the third of the Sprint Cup Chase races, joined on the front row by an unusually strong Dale Earnhardt Jr. – but neither driver would ever look like a strong contender for the race victory itself.

The first yellow made an early appearance on lap 2 for a spin by Joey Logano who went sideways for an extended run down the straight before quickly pulling it all back together without hitting anything and thus able to continue, and the green was out again four laps later – only to go yellow once more almost immediately for a spin by Paul Menard that collected David Ragan, Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip; Labonte and Waltrip headed for the garage. As the race got underway again on lap 12, it looked as though it could be a long day at the race track but fortunately we were about to get 57 laps of green flag running.

The restart certainly didn’t go all that well for Martin, who dropped behind Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray, while further back Jimmie Johnson and Juan Montoya were on a charge and heading for the front, with Johnson finally reaching and passing Martin on lap 35.

With the green flag running continuing, the drivers were forced into pit stops – and it was a costly stop indeed for Dale Earnhardt Jr whose team lost a lug nut, causing the 88 to get black flagged back into the pits for a replacement, costing him a lap and the lead in what had seemed the best chance for a win all season.

After the pit stops, Jimmie Johnson popped up into the lead ahead of Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin in 5th. But the third yellow of the day was quick in coming out after Reed Sorenson got high and scraped a long way along the wall in turn 2. Even though the cars had only been on pit road a dozen laps before, the drivers didn’t hesitate in coming in under the more forgiving conditions of a yellow flag to make those critical little adjustments.

With so little running since the last pit stop, however, many drivers opted to change only two tyres – a strategy that saw a big shake-up in the running order, with Greg Biffle (who had started way back in 31st) emerging as the leader at the restart on lap 74 ahead of Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Keselowski and Stewart. But none of these cars could hold back the storming 48, with Jimmie Johnson cutting a swathe through the field until he took the lead from Biffle in a multi-lap battle that started on lap 91 and was finally accomplished on lap 102 when Biffle got held up behind Max Papis – Johnson was looking in deadly form today.

Johnson set about putting some big names a lap down – Robby Gordon and Scott Speed on lap 112, Joey Logano on lap 118, Kevin Harvick on lap 120. With the cars that had opted for two tyres now really starting to struggle, the next cycle of pit stops began with Brad Keselowski coming in for four tires and an air pressure adjustment on lap 123; more cars followed, including Biffle, when suddenly they were joined on pit road by Brian Vickers in highly irregular fashion on lap 126: Vickers got high up near the wall, tried to turn but found the track that high up to be deadly. He spun around, coming down the track and onto the grass infield before finally managing to correct himself and get the car under control – at which point he found himself on pit road.

The yellow was much appreciated by the rest of the field who were able to come in under the caution, but the happiest of all was Biffle who had been on pit road when the yellow had come out, and who took the lead at the restart on lap 130 as a result. Now Biffle led Johnson, Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Stewart. Of course, Johnson – in the kind of form he was on tonight – wasted no time in snatching the lead straight back again.

Matt Kenseth exited to the garage with engine problems on lap 136, while back on track Mark Martin was struggling and had fallen to 10th place. But another yellow was forthcoming on lap 147 when Elliott Sadler, like Vickers before him, strayed too high up the track and found the point where traction ends and spins begin. It was harmless enough, and the drivers had the chance to pit under yellow again despite only 17 laps of running; as a result it wasn’t too surprising that most opted for the two tyre strategy, but both Johnson and Montoya decided to go for four and make up the difference with faster on-track performances, putting them back out in 9th and 10th and giving Biffle the lead back.

With Carl Edwards getting the free pass (after having gone a lap down earlier in proceedings as a result of a pit lane speeding penalty), there were 24 cars on the lead lap as Biffle led Stewart, Martin, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon on lap 151. Stewart made a strong challenge for the lead and briefly took it by getting a nose ahead for lap 159 but then slid down the track allowing Biffle to retake the position for the next time around. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson was still mired back in 10th spot and Montoya was getting caught up in a tangle between Casey Mears and David Reutimann as he tried to climb up to 6th place, but finding harder work than perhaps expected when he’d opted for the four tyres.

As the race passed a hundred to go, it was significant to note that the top eight were all Chase contenders, with Kurt Busch in tenth place and the only Chase drivers outside the top ten were Edwards (17th, still recovering from his earlier penalty), Ryan Newman (27th) and Vickers (35th and on the radio declaring the engine problem that would put him out of the race.)

Now the drivers were approaching the 200 mile mark: another green flag pit stop was looming, and it was looking too early for anyone to even think about stretching the fuel for the remaining distance (no one had made better than 55 laps or so in a single stint thus far.) Stretching the fuel was certainly not an option for Greg Biffle, who gave up an impressive 3.5s lead over Stewart to come in on lap 202. Stewart himself didn’t come in for another 4 laps, and Denny Hamlin lasted a lap longer still, but even so this left them with 60 laps to run – surely too far? Kurt Busch lasted until lap 208 and seemed to be leaning off off the fuel as much as possible, so at least the blue deuce was giving the fuel gambit a go.

After the green flags had cycled through, Biffle was back in front by a long margin – almost 8s – followed by Stewart, Kahne, Gordon and Hamlin. Former threats Johnson and Montoya were still stuck a ways back but were soon competing with side-by-side with Jeff Gordon for 5th on lap 223. Montoya’s pace was still strong but he seemed deeply unhappy with the car’s handling, haranging his pit chief over the radio – who in turn yelled at him that he was still P6 and things couldn’t be all that bad!

As Biffle deservedly clinched the five bonus points for leading rhe most laps, an early leader of the race – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – was experiencing a technical emergency. The car lost power on lap 234 and crawled into the pits to retire, but not before the engine left fluid on the track and forced the sixth and final yellow of the afternoon. Suddenly, all those plans about fuel conservation went out the window – everyone was going to come in and the question was how little fuel to take and whether to go for two tyres or four.

Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and – for the first time all day – Jimmie Johnson all opted for two tyres, putting them back out on track at the head of the field. Greg Biffle also broke with his habit of the day by going for four tyres over track position, falling back to 4th place just ahad of Hamlin who also went for four tyres.

At the restart it was a mixed result as to which tyre strategy had been the right call. Biffle used his new rubber to vault past both Kahne and Johnson; Johnson in particular was in trouble, finding the car edgy and difficult to handle as the 48 started to haemorrhage positions. But Stewart, on just two new tyres, was showing no signs of any problems at all and swiftly built up a huge lead having opted – unusually – for the outside line at the retsrat and using it to perfection.

But the fastest man on track all of a sudden was Jeff Gordon, and he was charging for the front. He passed Biffle for second on lap 254, giving him just 13 laps to eat into Stewart’s lead before the chequered flag. He kept on closing, but he wasn’t able to cut the lead fast enough and as the white flag came out it was clear that Tony Stewart had the race locked up, duly going on to take his first win of the Chase to finally get his Sprint Cup campaign up and running after a sluggish start.

Race results

FIN ST  CAR DRIVER             MAKE       PTS/BNS  LAPS  STATUS
1   5   14  Tony Stewart       Chevrolet  190/5    267   Running
2   9   24  Jeff Gordon        Chevrolet  170/0    267   Running
3   31  16  Greg Biffle        Ford       175/10   267   Running
4   14  42  Juan Montoya       Chevrolet  165/5    267   Running
5   22  11  Denny Hamlin       Toyota     160/5    267   Running
6   6   9   Kasey Kahne        Dodge      150/0    267   Running
7   1   5   Mark Martin        Chevrolet  151/5    267   Running
8   13  00  David Reutimann    Toyota     142/0    267   Running
9   11  48  Jimmie Johnson     Chevrolet  143/5    267   Running
10  17  99  Carl Edwards       Ford       139/5    267   Running
11  39  2   Kurt Busch         Dodge      135/5    267   Running
12  34  18  Kyle Busch         Toyota     127/0    267   Running
13  3   25  Brad Keselowski    Chevrolet  129/5    267   Running
14  27  47  Marcos Ambrose     Toyota     121/0    267   Running
15  36  07  Casey Mears        Chevrolet  118/0    267   Running
16  21  1   Martin Truex Jr.   Chevrolet  120/5    267   Running
17  15  44  A.J. Allmendinger  Dodge      117/5    267   Running
18  33  77  Sam Hornish Jr.    Dodge      109/0    267   Running
19  16  21  Bill Elliott       Ford       106/0    267   Running
20  42  19  Elliott Sadler     Dodge      108/5    267   Running
21  8   33  Clint Bowyer       Chevrolet  100/0    267   Running
22  30  39  Ryan Newman        Chevrolet  97/0     267   Running
23  35  31  Jeff Burton        Chevrolet  94/0     267   Running
24  38  29  Kevin Harvick      Chevrolet  91/0     267   Running
25  32  12  David Stremme      Dodge      88/0     267   Running
26  28  43  Reed Sorenson      Dodge      85/0     267   Running
27  10  82  Scott Speed *      Toyota     82/0     267   Running
28  18  20  Joey Logano *      Toyota     79/0     267   Running
29  41  96  Erik Darnell       Ford       76/0     265   Running
30  20  98  Paul Menard        Ford       73/0     265   Running
31  4   26  Jamie McMurray     Ford       70/0     264   Running
32  43  113 Max Papis *        Toyota     67/0     263   Running
33  40  34  John Andretti      Chevrolet  69/5     263   Running
34  37  7   Robby Gordon       Toyota     61/0     263   Running
35  25  6   David Ragan        Ford       58/0     256   Running
36  2   88  Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet  60/5     232   Out of Race
37  12  83  Brian Vickers      Toyota     52/0     208   Out of Race
38  29  55  Michael Waltrip    Toyota     49/0     141   In Pit
39  23  17  Matt Kenseth       Ford       51/5     134   Out of Race
40  24  66  Dave Blaney        Toyota     43/0      28   Out of Race
41  19  09  Mike Bliss         Dodge      40/0      26   In Pit
42  7   187 Joe Nemechek       Toyota     37/0      25   In Pit
43  26  171 Bobby Labonte      Chevrolet  34/0       6   In Pit 

Sprint Cup standings

Despite what for him is a lacklustre outing, Mark Martin atctually increased his points lead from 10pts to 18pts over Jimmie Johnson. Juan Montoyaalso closed up on the lead by 14pts, and unsurprisingly Tony Stewart mades a big step forward, cutting his deficit from 106pts to just 67pts.

    +/- DRIVER              PTS       GAP   ST  P   W   T5  T10
1   --  Mark Martin         5551            29  7   5   11  17
2   --  Jimmie Johnson      5533      -18   29  2   4   11  18
3   --  Juan Montoya        5500      -51   29  2   0   5   15
4   +1  Tony Stewart        5484      -67   29  0   4   14  20
5   -1  Kurt Busch          5460      -91   29  0   1   8   16
6   --  Denny Hamlin        5452      -99   29  0   2   11  16
7   +1  Jeff Gordon         5448     -103   29  0   1   13  20
8   +1  Greg Biffle         5437     -114   29  0   0   9   14
9   -2  Ryan Newman         5387     -164   29  1   0   5   14
10  +1  Carl Edwards        5386     -165   29  0   0   7   12
11  +1  Kasey Kahne         5361     -190   29  0   2   5   12
12  -2  Brian Vickers       5301     -250   29  6   1   4   13
======= CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS ========
13  +1  Kyle Busch          3522    -2029   29  1   4   8   10
14  -1  Matt Kenseth        3475    -2076   29  1   2   5   10
15  +1  David Reutimann     3417    -2134   29  2   1   5   9
16  -1  Clint Bowyer        3411    -2140   29  0   0   4   12
17  --  Marcos Ambrose      3180    -2371   29  0   0   4   7
18  --  Jeff Burton         3062    -2489   29  0   0   2   6
19  --  Casey Mears         2993    -2558   29  0   0   0   3
20  --  Joey Logano*        2921    -2630   29  0   1   1   5
21  --  Kevin Harvick       2898    -2653   29  0   0   3   5
22  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  2849    -2702   29  0   0   2   5
23  --  Jamie McMurray      2822    -2729   29  0   0   0   3
24  --  A.J. Allmendinger   2806    -2745   29  0   0   1   4
25  +1  Martin Truex Jr.    2745    -2806   29  2   0   0   3
26  -1  Elliott Sadler      2739    -2812   29  0   0   1   4
27  --  Sam Hornish Jr.     2680    -2871   29  0   0   2   7
28  --  Reed Sorenson       2588    -2963   29  0   0   0   1
29  +2  David Stremme       2532    -3019   29  0   0   0   0
30  -1  Bobby Labonte       2529    -3022   29  0   0   1   1
31  -1  David Ragan         2527    -3024   29  0   0   0   1
32  --  Paul Menard         2447    -3104   29  0   0   0   0
33  --  Robby Gordon        2228    -3323   28  0   0   1   1
34  --  Michael Waltrip     2204    -3347   27  0   0   0   1
35  --  Scott Speed*        2104    -3447   28  0   0   1   1
36  --  John Andretti       2026    -3525   27  0   0   0   0
37  --  David Gilliland     1524    -4027   25  0   0   0   0
38  --  Regan Smith         1181    -4370   14  0   0   0   0
39  --  Joe Nemechek        1099    -4452   24  0   0   0   0
40  +1  Brad Keselowski     1056    -4495   10  0   1   1   3
Advertisements



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: