To the Point: After running around in midpack for the majority of the race, Jeremy Mayfield pulled a fast one on the rest of the field and ran the final 52 laps without a pit stop to win the GFS Marketplace 400 on a fuel mileage gamble.
Who Should Have Won: Matt Kenseth. No question about it, the 17 team was on a tear Sunday, setting themselves up to grab the win they felt they should have had at Chicagoland just one month ago. But just as in Chicagoland, Kenseth and the 17 team fell victim to late race pit strategy; there, it was Earnhardt, Jr. staying out on the track with old tires, and in Michigan, it was several teams trying to stay out on the track due to fuel mileage. Had there been any cautions over the last 50 or so laps, or even a green-white-checkered finish scenario, Kenseth was in the driver’s seat to score the win over Carl Edwards. At least for Kenseth, he can take consolation in the fact that he’s closed to within 104 points of the Top 10 with three races to go, and if he can survive short track scares at Bristol or Richmond, he has an outside shot to make the playoffs the way he’s been running.
Five Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Alright, admit it…you thought there was no way in hell a NASCAR Nextel Cup series race could run over 100 miles without a caution in the last segment of a race. Unbelievable, huh? Good thing to know that’s still possible nowadays.
2) Despite the few cautions, how weird was it for all the debris to be causing engine crises? I haven’t seen that type of thing happen in the sport for a long time. It’s shocking no more engines blew with all the havoc those hot dog wrappers were causing; you felt like for awhile there the PA announcer was going to make a call to the stands and ask everyone to keep their trash in their pockets.
3) What if…just follow me here for a second…what if the 37 team’s fuel doesn’t run short, and Tony Raines, in his first ride with the team, scores an improbable Nextel Cup victory? Would that have been the biggest NASCAR upset of the modern era? I think it would have…and it almost happened…
4) With Matt Kenseth’s late charge in the points, what if all five Roush teams make the Nextel Cup Chase? How in the world will the teams be willing to spread out all their information and work together then? And will NASCAR do something to make sure this multi-car dominance comes to a halt?
5) What does Elliott Sadler have to do to catch a break? At least there’s not a more modest guy in the garage area about admitting his own mistakes.
Mayfield’s win was the 5th of his Nextel Cup career. It also marks the first time ever Mayfield has won a race in consecutive Nextel Cup seasons after 13 years on the circuit.
Scott Riggs’ second-place run was the best finish of his Nextel Cup career. It also marked the drivers’ first Top 5 since Daytona in February.
Greg Biffle’s sixth-place run was only his second Top 10 finish since winning at Michigan in June (8 races).
Bill Elliott hung in there with an 11th-place run, his best finish of 2005. The last time Awesome Bill placed in the Top 10 was in the Brickyard 400 back in August 2004.
With a DNF on Sunday, Terry Labonte has now failed to finish six of the ten events he’s entered this year.
Shockingly, despite the fuel mileage craziness that jumbled up the order at the end of Sunday’s race, there wasn’t much movement in the Nextel Cup standings. Tony Stewart remained consistent, posting his eighth consecutive Top 7 finish with a 5th-place run and maintaining his lead on top of the Nextel Cup points, his margin growing slightly to 126 points over second-place Jimmie Johnson. both drivers achieved a much bigger goal on Sunday; no matter what happens from here on out, Johnson and Stewart now have clinched their spots in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship.
Behind the top two, Greg Biffle, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin maintained third, fourth, and fifth in the standings with Top 20 runs for all on Sunday. The big mover of the weekend was Jeremy Mayfield, who moved from seventh to sixth in the points with his win and closed to within 30 points of Martin for 5th. 399 points behind the leader but over 200 points ahead of 11th place Dale Jarrett, Mayfield has all but clinched his second straight spot in the Chase.
Busch fell from sixth to seventh in points, but maintains a healthy 197-point edge on 11th-place Jarrett. Ryan Newman is eighth, 122 ahead of Jarrett after finishing 7th on Sunday. Carl Edwards, with a strong Top 5 finish, moved ahead of Jamie McMurray to take 9th spot, with McMurray falling to 10th, 566 points behind Stewart and 51 ahead of Jarrett for that final spot in the Chase.
Behind Jarrett, Jeff Gordon moved up to 12th in points, 58 out of a Chase spot. Elliott Sadler fell 65 points behind 10th place and back to 13th in the points after his crash, with Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth rounding out the Top 15. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is now 16th in the points, 158 behind 10th-place McMurray with just 3 races to go. 17th-place Joe Nemechek, 169 points back of the Top 10, is the only driver left with any sort of reasonable chance to crack the Chase.
“We didn’t get beat on the race track today. That was good. I really thought that battle with Carl was for the win until there was two to go…” -Matt Kenseth on his 3rd-place run
“It was…horrible. It’s embarassing, you know? And I don’t know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to find something because we’ve tried everything. And it’s not working. And Kyle Busch was really good, so you know, we’ve got to figure out what I’m doing wrong, what we’re doing wrong as a team…my big concern is California. That’s going to be an important race and very similar type of race track and we need to be better than we were here.” -Jeff Gordon on his 15th-place run Sunday
“That’s a helluva lotta fun to run three-wide with a lot of these guys, but it leaves you with a sick feeling knowing that once you make that last stop, you’re just hoping the guys in front of you keep running out of gas.” -Dale Earnhardt, Jr. after finishing 18th Sunday
“I think my worst nightmare has come true…I just made a driver mistake and I have dug a hole that’s maybe too deep for my team to get me out.” -Elliott Sadler on his 39th-place finish
After three months away from short-track shenanigans, the Cup series makes its return to the half-mile bullring at Bristol for the annual Satruday night slugfest, the Sharpie 500.
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