Brad Morgan · Tuesday September 10, 2013
Carl Edwards captured the regular season finale at Richmond to gain momentum heading into the Chase, but he wasn’t the only driver making Hot or Not worthy moves during the Federated Auto Parts 400. Bubble drivers left Virginia either extremely relieved (see Martin Truex Jr.) or in complete befuddlement (see Ryan Newman) over the way that the final laps played out. And then twisted around again when NASCAR issued its penalties Monday night.
This pre-Chase edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not shows that teamwork can be a complex and controversial subject and that some Chasers might quickly gain an advantage next week at Chicagoland.
Well this one certainly seems like a no-brainer.
Having already clinched a Chase spot well before the 26-race cutoff, Carl Edwards gained a small three-point boost in the reseeded points standings thanks to a timely victory at Richmond.
Edwards took full advantage of a lap-398 restart, beating Paul Menard to the start-finish line, and led the remaining laps to claim his second victory of the season. It was enough to give the Roush Fenway driver the points lead over Jimmie Johnson before everything was reset for Chase competition.
How important could those three extra points in the Chase standings be for the No. 99 team? Considering that Edwards and Tony Stewart technically tied for the 2011 championship before factoring in the tiebreaker that gave Stewart the title, very.
The first step towards bettering that runner-up campaign in ’11 will be duplicating the fourth-place finish Edwards had at Chicagoland in the Chase that season. That feat isn’t out of reach for Edwards, who also has finishes of second and third there in eight career starts.
Not every member of this year’s Chase class has had that level of success at the 1.5-mile oval, but that doesn’t mean that qualifiers like Kurt Busch won’t be in the mix on Sunday.
Busch enters the Chase on a roll that includes five finishes of ninth or better in the six events leading up to the playoffs. A second-place run at Richmond, his best of that stretch, was the result of an aggressive effort. The No. 78 Chevrolet paced the field for 73 laps and was consistently racing among the leaders.
The Furniture Row driver is deserving of this spot for his showing at Richmond and what he did for the Colorado based organization. Busch became the first driver to make the Chase while driving for a single-car organization and makes his first appearance in the postseason in two years.
Congratulations to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The rookie finally collected his first top-10 finish of the season at Richmond and now ranks 20th in points. Stenhouse benefitted from a late-race caution that occurred during green flag stops – leaving several leaders down a lap – before he brought the No. 17 Ford to pit road. From there he battled from 11th position over the final 30 laps.
Compared to many of Sprint Cup’s top drivers, Stenhouse’s first top 10 came significantly later into his rookie season, but it’s also worth noting that the defending Nationwide Series champion hasn’t had a DNF through 26 races. He stands with teammate Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, as the only remaining drivers to complete every race.
Jeff Gordon ended up on the wrong end of Saturday night’s event and finds himself outside of the Chase for the second time since 2005. The No. 24 Chevrolet was dominant from the pole, leading the first 49 laps, before its handling faded and an unscheduled stop for a loose wheel put Gordon a lap down. Two Lucky Dogs later, Gordon was in position to race his way into the standings’ top 10, but ultimately missed making the playoffs by a single point.
Newman wouldn’t have openly thrown around allegations concerning some sketchy behavior during the closing laps at Richmond and NASCAR wouldn’t have opened an investigation on those events if there wasn’t reasonable evidence of tampering with the running order, resulting in a manipulated Chase roster.
Chaser and MWR star Clint Bowyer and teammate Brian Vickers were the focal points of this disheartening story.
Bowyer allegedly spun his No. 15 Toyota purposefully on lap 394, bringing out the caution during which Ryan Newman pitted from the lead. Later, Vickers was cited with running a 79.564-mph lap, or about 50-mph off the pace of many other car on-track at the time. That accompanied with strange pit stops from both Bowyer and Vickers afterwards, gave Martin Truex Jr. the cushion he needed to safely qualify for the Chase. Until Mike Helton and Co. lowered the boom Monday night and ripped that Chase berth out from under Truex’s feet and awarded it to Ryan Newman, dinged all three MWR teams for 50 points and suspended MWR General Manager Ty Norris from NASCAR indefinitely.
MWR says they won’t appeal the penalties, including the whopping $300,000 fine.
Besides helping to put a black eye on the sport, Bowyer hasn’t exactly looked his best over the last few races. Before his blown tire, spin, and excruciatingly long stop at Richmond, he blew an engine at Atlanta.
In last week’s Hot or Not Carl Edwards drew criticism for an engine failure, but perhaps it should have been Bowyer in his place. The MWR driver enters the Chase with zero wins and thus starts the Chase 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. No, that’s not an insurmountable deficit, but Bowyer has only two top 10 finishes in the last eight races, finishes that would only widen the gap between his current position and a championship during the final ten events.
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