To The Point: What goes around comes around…or, in the case of Matt Kenseth, spun around. After knocking Jeff Gordon into the wall this spring at Bristol, it was Gordon’s turn to give a little payback Sunday, bumping the 17 car of Kenseth off turn two with five laps remaining while battling for the win at Chicagoland. Gordon assumed the lead as Kenseth lost control, then held off Jeff Burton after the ensuing caution for the spin to claim his 75th career victory in a green-white-checkered finish. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the Top 5, while Kenseth finished 21st after wrecking a second time coming to the start / finish line with David Stremme.
Who Should Have Won: Gordon. Opinions will differ on the Gordon – Kenseth incident, but this much was clear in the race’s final laps: Gordon had the best car. Kenseth did lead the most laps in this race for the second straight year (112 this time around), but found himself in fuel conservation mode as the race roared towards its conclusion, causing Gordon to gain on the 17 car three tenths per lap to put him in position for the “bump and run.”
Five Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) So, who’s at fault in the Gordon – Kenseth incident, and what happens now?
While at first glance it appears Gordon intentionally bumped Kenseth to spin him out, there were other factors involved. Kenseth caught a lapped car (Casey Mears) going into turn one on that fateful lap, causing him to take a lower line into the corner and develop a bad push coming off turn two. While Gordon could have backed off and let Kenseth go, it seemed he didn’t expect that Kenseth would slow up off the turn as much as he did. As far as possible penalties for Gordon, if any were going to be assessed they would have been assessed right then and there by NASCAR, so it’s likely both drivers will “forgive and forget” in public…until Bristol rolls around, that is.
For more on how this incident is a sign of how much Jeff Gordon’s driving has changed in the past year, click here for this week’s Bowles-Eye View.
2) Why was the last caution four laps when all that happened was a small, one car incident?
It seems this is talked about every week, but again a caution flag was somewhat controversial during the race, as it took four laps to restart the race after the bump and run between Gordon and Kenseth. Because the event was so close to the finish, those extra two laps under yellow proved critical as it forced the race into “overtime” and caused several cars who took fuel mileage gambles for track position, including Tony Stewart, to run out of gas. It’s one thing for that to happen for legitimate reasons…it’s questionable whether there were legitimate reasons in this case.
3) Juan Pablo Montoya? Coming to NASCAR? Really?
Yes, indeed…Montoya, current Formula 1 driver and former CART champion, has decided to join the NASCAR ranks, teaming up with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2007 and beyond to replace Casey Mears in the #42 car. While Montoya’s NASCAR experience is limited, certain drivers named Stewart and Kahne are living proof of how if you have the talent, you can switch from open wheel to NASCAR and do well in a heartbeat. While Ganassi’s outfit has struggled in recent years, Montoya’s accomplishments suggest he may slip into stock cars without slipping a beat. Hopefully so…otherwise this team could be out of the Top 35 faster than you can say Montoya’s full name.
4) Has the racing improved enough at Chicagoland to justify keeping its date?
Yes. However, six years in, the track still is struggling somewhat with its multiple grooves, and at some point the track needs to address that issue in order to be judged a complete success. Hopefully, they’ve watched the Lowe’s Motor Speedway debacle from afar and realize it’s far too early to do any of that.
5) Is there any way Will Ferrell can become a part of every NASCAR event?
The former Saturday Night Live cast member and star of the upcoming NASCAR-themed comedy Talladega Nights stopped by the track to do NBC/TNT’s Wally’s World drivealong on Saturday, helping to produce one of the funniest segments in the network’s six year history of covering the sport. Here’s to hoping that with the movie coming out Auust 4th, Ferrell will find a way to get in front of a NASCAR camera several more times this season.
Jeff Burton: Burton started off the weekend by winning the pole, and backed that up by spending most of the day running at or near the front, leading 40 laps. While Burton inevitably came up just short of the win he desperately wants, after finishing the race a strong second there’s not much for the 31 team to complain about.
Kevin Harvick: After winning the first two Cup races in Chicagoland history in 2001 and 2002, Harvick had struggled at the speedway of late, finishing no higher than 10th in his last three starts. As a result, he had to be satisfied with a strong fourth place finish here, giving him back-to-back finishes in the Top 10 for the first time since Phoenix and Texas back in April.
Reed Sorenson: While Sorenson finished 5th last month in a rain-shortened Michigan event, his race on Sunday may have been the best of his young Cup career. The 20-year-old ran in or around the Top 10 most of the day, coming home 7th in the final rundown.
J.J. Yeley: One of three rookies in the Top 10 (Clint Bowyer was 9th), Yeley fought his way to a solid 10th place finish, ending a streak that saw the No. 18 Chevrolet finish 33rd or worse in 4 of the last 5 races. The finish was only Yeley’s second Top 10 of the year, and his first since California in February.
Tony Stewart: Starting 34th, Stewart took off like a rocket ship, putting himself in position for a solid Top 5 finish. But as has been the case for most of the past two months, Stewart and the team were snakebit by bad luck late in the race, as the “overtime” period caused the car to run out of gas with only two laps remaining. Stewart finished a disappointing 32nd.
Ryan Newman: Newman’s faint hopes to make the Chase may have completely faded away after his struggles Sunday. Fighting an ill-handling car, Newman hit the wall twice, made heavy contact with Michael Waltrip’s 55 car, and never seemed to get a good handle on the racetrack in general. The 12 car finished up 36th, 2 laps down, causing Newman to lose 100 points to Jimmie Johnson…and countless more to most everyone else in the Top 10.
Kasey Kahne: In 4 Cup starts on 1.5 mile ovals this season, Kahne had 3 wins and a 4th, so hopes were high entering Chicagoland. Surprisingly, those expectations were never realized. Fading fast from his Top 5 starting spot, Kahne couldn’t get above midpack the rest of the day, ending up in 23rd place, one of the last cars on the lead lap.
Terry Labonte: Labonte’s strong run at Infineon is now a distant memory, as Chicagoland was a trip back to reality for the veteran. Back in the No. 44 Hendrick Motorsports car in which he’s driving a limited schedule, Texas Terry was never competitive, running between 30th and 35th before becoming the only car to exit the race with a blown engine. Labonte finished 43rd.
With Matt Kenseth’s disappointing 22nd place finish, Jimmie Johnson was able to expand his point lead to 48 with just eight races remaining until the Chase. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remained in third, while Jeff Burton used his strong second place finish to move up to fourth place, his season high. Kasey Kahne dropped one spot to fifth, while Mark Martin held down sixth place.
Tony Stewart’s gas issues brought him down to spots to seventh, with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick maintaining eighth and ninth spots, respectively. Jeff Gordon’s win allowed him to sneak back into the Chase for now, grabbing the final spot in the Top 10 by 47 points over Greg Biffle and 50 over Denny Hamlin.
“I didn’t mean to wreck (Matt), but I didn’t mind moving him out of the way either. I wanted to win, I was hungry for it, this team deserved it, and they worked hard to put such a great race car out there.” Jeff Gordon
“Of course he did it intentionally…there’s nothing I can do about it now.” Matt Kenseth
“Matt is a hard-nosed driver, and there will be retribution for that (spin), I’m sure.” Jeff Burton
“A tough way to end the race… we worked all the way from 34th, and then to have it end like that, it’s pretty hard to take.” Tony Stewart
Next Up: The Nextel Cup contingent makes the first of two annual visits to the Northeast, taking on the one mile flat track challenge in Loudon, New Hampshire. The New England 300 is scheduled for 2:00 PM EST Sunday, July 16th with the prerace show beginning at 1:30 PM EST live on TNT.
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