The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Breakdown : Dickies 500 by Thomas Bowles -- Monday November 7, 2005

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Frontstretch Breakdown : Dickies 500

Thomas Bowles · Monday November 7, 2005

 

To the Point: Carl Edwards found his way around Mark Martin on fresh tires with less than two laps remaining to snatch the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, his second straight victory in the Nextel Cup Series. The win also led another 1-2-3 finish for Roush on an intermediate track, with Martin coming home second and Matt Kenseth crossing the finish line third. Tony Stewart had a decent day and ended up 6th, losing only a small part of his points lead to 5th-place finisher Jimmie Johnson.

Who Should Have Won: Carl Edwards. This week, Edwards clearly didn’t have a car head and shoulders above the rest of the field like he had last Sunday at Atlanta. But once the race got going, after 10 or 15 laps of a green flag run the 99 car was a rocket ship, outrunning everybody except perhaps the 41 car of Casey Mears in the second half of the race and establishing himself at the front of the pack. If the last caution for debris hadn’t come out, Edwards would have likely won the race anyway, and his drive to the front on new tires from 6th with 11 laps to go caused one of the best finishes of the 2005 season.

Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Should NASCAR change the name of their debris cautions to “TV Yellows?”

Curiously enough, TV viewers never got to see the mysterious piece of debris that caused a surprise yellow with 15 laps remaining in Sunday’s race. Even if the debris did exist, it’s a mutual understand amongst almost everyone that anything short of a giant 2 foot knife lying on the track face up should never cause a debris caution with that few laps remaining in the race. Can you imagine the race ending for debris on the white flag lap? It may be what we’re coming to…the caution was conveniently timed for an exciting TV finish and secretly infuriated drivers like Casey Mears, whose car was set up on long runs and could have possibly challenged for the win if the race had stayed green. Despite the exciting finish, this wasn’t one of NASCAR’s greatest moments.

2) How surprising was it to see Greg Biffle collapse at a race he was expected to dominate?

Biffle, 3rd in points, seemed poised to make a move in the Chase on Sunday, having won the Texas race in dominating fashion back in April and hovering within 100 points of the first title he covets. But after taking the lead early from fellow Roush teammate Matt Kenseth, Biffle’s day entered a complete collapse. A look left-side wheel caused an unscheduled pit stop under green, and from that point on, his car was never the same. Biffle lost a lap, then overdrove the car to make up for it, causing two of the race’s six cautions with spins and hurting the aerodynamics of the car after a separate beating and banging incident with Scott Wimmer. By the time Biffle put himself in position to receive the Lucky Dog, 15 laps were left in the race; Biffle could only battle back to a 20th-place finish as a result. 122 points back with two to go, chances of his first title are all but out the window.

3) Why did Ryan Newman keep going after a lap that won him the pole?

Clearly, Newman’s qualiyfing wreck on Friday during his second lap cost him any shot at the championship; the 12 team was forced to go to the backup for Sunday, and the car ran like junk, with Newman finishing 25th and dropping 174 points behind with two races remaining. The fault appears to lie with no one telling Newman to shut the car off after the pole-winning 1st lap; yes, it’s possible the lap time could have improved, but position-wise, you can’t do any better than 1st place. Instead, Newman kept zipping around the track, got his flat tire, and now can spend the rest of his season looking forward to 2006.

4) Is Kurt Busch getting the same equipment as the rest of the Roush brigade?

After pointed comments this week by Jack Roush about Busch’s personality, as well as Busch’s all-but-officially dead hopes of claiming this year’s title, it appears the 97 team is beginning to struggle to keep up with the other Roush cars a little bit. The team struggled before crashing out at Atlanta, and at Texas the 97 never had the speed of the Top 3 Roush Racing finishers (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) as well as the wounded car of Greg Biffle. Busch did manage to sneak a Top 10 finish through pit strategy, but it appears he’s the low man on the totem pole the remainder of his time at Roush. For his sake, hopefully that label won’t be extended through the end of the 2006 season.

5) Who is realistically left to fight for this year’s championship?

Three drivers, with another three clinging to faint hope should Tony Stewart have any trouble in Phoenix or Homestead. Stewart himself, as the point leader, is in the driver’s seat for the title, but either Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards could easily unseat him with strong runs in the final 2 races. Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth also are within striking distance—- but with all of them over 120 points behind Stewart, they’ve got to hope the 20 car lands in the wall or the garage in one of the next two races to call themselves a serious contender.

Worth Noting:

  • Carl Edwards’ fourth victory of the season sets a record in the modern era for wins by a driver in his first full season of competition (NOT rookie year of competition, as remember, Edwards is not a rookie, he competed in too many Cup races in 2004).
  • Mark Martin’s second place finish was his fifth Top 5 in eight Chase races. Unfortunately, he also has two finishes of 34th or worse.
  • Matt Kenseth led the most laps at Texas and joined Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle as the only drivers to lead 1,000 or more laps this season.
  • Casey Mears 4th-place finish tied the best run of his Nextel Cup career, also at Texas in this year’s Spring race.
  • Denny Hamlin’s 7th-place run gives him three Top 5 finishes in his first five Nextel Cup races.
  • Ricky Rudd’s 13th-place run was his eighth consecutive Top 20 finish.
  • Rusty Wallace’s 22nd-place run now means he has gone four races without a Top 15 finish, the longest streak he’s had during the 2005 season. Couldn’t have come at a worse time, of course.
  • The semi-retired drivers continue to struggle with limited programs. Terry Labonte wrapped up his 14-race schedule in 2005 with just one Top 10 finish, and that came as a fill-in driver for Joe Gibbs’ #11 FedEx car, not with his 10-race stint with Hendrick Motorsports. Meanwhile, Bill Elliott has zero Top 10s and a best finish of eleventh in nine races of driving for Ray Evernham in the #91 Dodge. The two drivers finished back-to-back towards the rear of the field Sunday, with Labonte in 31st and Elliott in 32nd place when the checkered flag flew.

Points Shuffle:
After leading at one point with less than 30 laps remaining, Tony Stewart’s car faded back to his 6th-place finish, while Johnson’s late surge pushed him one spot ahead in 5th. As a result, Johnson gains 5 points in the title hunt, with the gap closing from 43 to 38 with just two races left. Despite that small gain, Stewart now controls his own destiny; if he finishes second and leads a lap in both remaining races, he will win the title regardless of what anyone else does.

Behind the top two, Carl Edwards continues his late-season push for the championship, as his second straight win pushes him to within 77 of the lead. Greg Biffle falls from third to fourth, now a distant 122 points behind and just one point ahead of fifth-place Mark Martin. Matt Kenseth is 6th, 135 points back and the last driver with any sort of realistic chance at landing this year’s title.

As for the other four drivers in the Chase, they appear to be racing for pride and perhaps a Top 5 points finish. Ryan Newman drops to 7th from a tie for 4th, now 174 back of Stewart and all but mathematically eliminated. Kurt Busch moves to 8th, 281 behind, with Rusty Wallace 9th; they’re just barely mathematically alive and seem to be fighting between themselves for that 8th spot. Jeremy Mayfield in 10th has been officially eliminated from championship contention after a poor run Sunday, falling 425 points behind the leader.

In the race for 11th, Jamie McMurray still leads that charge, but only by 51 over Elliott Sadler in 12th. Jeff Gordon is merely one more point behind in 13th place, while Kevin Harvick battled the loss of his stepfather over the weekend to remain solidly in the Top 15, 81 points behind in 14th. Joe Nemechek is in the 15th spot, but is over 160 points behind McMurray and not realistically capable of moving to 11th at this point.

Quotable:
“Four wins, man, I can’t believe it…we’re out to win this championship, and we’ll do it by having fun. That way, if we lose it, we’re still going to have fun.” Carl Edwards

“Carl was spectacular. It was a great call (for the 99 to pit at the end). The best car won the race…but we were close…I just couldn’t beat those tires.” Mark Martin

“To get out front and lead like that was a big deal for this race team. I feel pretty good about it. I couldn’t believe that last caution. I didn’t see any debris, but I guess they’ve got to make it exciting. It cost us the race because I thought we’d go by those guys if it had stayed green.” Casey Mears

“You know, it’s not even really worth worrying about the points, it’s about worrying what you need to fo to win the race the next couple of weeks.” Tony Stewart on thinking about the championship

“Tony (Stewart) is going to run strong and it’s going to be five points here or there. That’s just kind of the way it is. We did close up a couple of points…all in all, I’m happy.” Jimmie Johnson

Next Up:
After a stop in the Midwest, NASCAR heads even further towards the Pacific coast, with its usual November stop at the track deep in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. The Checker Auto Parts 500K will be held at the one-mile plus oval track next Sunday afternoon.

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