Mike Lovecchio · Monday October 11, 2010
Kyle Busch’s championship hopes officially went up in smoke Sunday
For all his success in the Nationwide and Truck Series, there’s something about the Chase that has Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team scratching their heads. Their latest misfortune came in the way of engine problems on lap 155, prompting Busch to come over the radio with the words that everybody in Fontana was already thinking:
“There you have it. Anybody who wasn’t sure the championship was over, it’s certainly over now.”
The resulting 35th-place finish knocked Busch down another two rungs in the standings and 187 points behind the sport’s most consistent driver, Jimmie Johnson. But the problem for Busch isn’t just the deficit, but the eight drivers in front of him. It would almost certainly take a string of five consecutive top-5 finishes just to be in the championship picture come Homestead, and consistency hasn’t exactly been the No. 18 team’s strong suit throughout his career. Any driver that can win races at the rate of Busch has a puncher’s chance, but it would take nothing short of a miracle to make it happen.
Also out of the championship picture is now the Roush Fenway trio
In this very space one week ago I adamantly expressed how much I loved Roush’s chances going forward in the Chase. But in the era of the ten-race playoff, one race can completely alter any team’s momentum and championship hopes. Unfortunately for Roush Fenway Racing, California claimed the title dreams of its two highest-ranked drivers. Last week’s winner Greg Biffle suffered similar engine issues to those of Busch, but much sooner in the race and finished 41st, while Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team had an unfortunate case of déjà vu after his car lost power, lost laps, and slumped to 34th. Just like that now, both teams have gone from sleepers capable of dethroning Johnson to two of the six teams that look to be losing ground in the championship hunt. Edwards is 162 points out, and winless on the year; it will be difficult to eat into such a deficit without several trips to Victory Lane. Further back lies Biffle, whose 215-point hole is simply too deep to make up in six races. Nonetheless, RFR has made the necessary strides late in 2010 to be formidable contenders next season.
Ryan Newman has established himself as the top non-Chaser
As Chaser after Chaser has eliminated themselves through the first four playoff races, it’s one of those drivers who just fell short of the championship cut that’s playing the role of spoiler. Tony Stewart may have won the race and reestablished himself as a contender, but it’s teammate Ryan Newman who has accumulated one of the highest point totals over the first month of the Chase. With his fifth-place run on Sunday, Newman has reeled off four consecutive top-10 finishes, and further than that he has six top-10s in his last seven races (worst finish, 11th). I’ve long doubted Stewart-Haas Racing’s championship chances this season, but Newman’s consistent top 10s on top of Stewart’s win has me reconsidering my stance that not only can Stewart contend for the title this year, but both he and Newman can be players the next few seasons.
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