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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Chasers: Furious Rally By Edwards Gives Him Top Spot 10/9/2011

by Garrett Horton

Carl Edwards entered Kansas as a favorite to win, but shortly after the start of the race, it was clear his car was off. At one point, he was a lap off the pace, running as low as 20th. Just like last week, however, he rallied from a lap down to finish in top-5. Unlike last week, he was thrilled to finish where he did on Sunday.

“That was very, very bad at the beginning of that race, and I cannot thank my guys enough for sticking with it and working hard the whole day,” he said. “I cannot believe we finished fifth. It feels like a win. That’s the best we’ve done with the worst — the most we’ve done with a car that wasn’t capable of winning ever, so I’m really proud of my guys who made good adjustments. Just I cannot believe from the way the day started, to finish like that is spectacular.”

The mid-race turnaround was huge pointswise, as Edwards leaves Kansas with sole possesion of the lead. For a while, it looked like that not only would he lose the top spot, but he would fall way down in the standings. With two consecutive races where he was able to overcome misfortune, Edwards’ competitors need to be concerned when the 99 team ends up having a flawless race.

While Edwards’ comeback was the most impressive, Kevin Harvick’s rally to finish sixth should not go without notice. After running 15th for most of the afternoon – at one point he was just seconds away from going a lap down – Harvick benefitted from several of the late race cautions. It allowed the No. 29 team to make different pit calls from the leaders, one of which included staying out when the rest of the leaders pitted after a lap 221 caution. The track position allowed him to stay in the top-10 for the remainder of the race, and the end result was a sixth-place finish. With Edwards sneaking by him on the final restart, Harvick lost the point lead, but is just one point behind.

Jimmie Johnson continues to prove why it is foolish to ever consider him out of Chase contention. Sitting 29 points outside the point lead in tenth just two races ago, finishes of second at Dover and his win at Kansas have moved the five-time champ right into the thick of things. He is now third in the standings, just four markers behind Edwards for the top spot.

Moving up two spots to fourth in the standings is Brad Keselowski, who turned around his slow start to the season here at Kansas back in June by picking up win No. 1. He didn’t get to sweep the races at Kansas this year, but he was strong all day, running in the top-10 for most of the afternoon. It was on the second to last caution when crew chief Paul Wolfe had Keselowski stay out while the rest of the leaders pitted that gave the No. 2 the track position they needed. While Johnson was able to make quick work to get the top spot back, the strategy paid off as Keselowski finished third. Four races into the Chase, Keselowski is only 11 points behind Edwards.

Matt Kenseth finished the day fourth, but it looked like his strong day was going to end with a disappointment. After running in the top-5 for most of the race, Kenseth’s car fell back with 30 laps remaining, almost falling outside the top-10. The second to last caution of the day helped Kenseth get back towards the lead, and quickly got back into the top-5. Because of that, the 2003 Cup champion moved up two spots in the standings to fifth.

Last week’s winner, Kurt Busch, had an eventful day. The car was never dialed in, with Kurt even radioing in to “get the banana peels out from under the tires.” He even went a lap down at point, but immediately got the lucky dog when a caution came out a lap later. Steve Addington then tried using some late race pit strategy, keeping Busch out for track position when most of the leaders pitted for gas. From that point on, Busch stayed close to the top spot until the final caution of the day. Busch, who was on older tires, quickly faded as guys who had just put on fresh rubber were able to fly by him. When the checkered flag flew, Busch crossed the line 13th, a dissappointing day that cuts off the much needed momentum he gained last week with the Dover victory. He fell back two spots in the standings to sixth.

Tony Stewart looked poised to finish runner-up to Johnson as he ran second for much of the race. However, when he decided to come in on the final caution for four new tires, Stewart slid through his pit stall, costing him many positions, and points, on the stop. He came out 17th, and was only able to work his way back up to 15th on the green-white-checkered. It hurt him in the standings, as Smoke dropped four positions to seventh.

Kyle Busch continues his Chase struggles. While he had a very strong car at Kansas, a track that is considered to be one of his worst, Busch was not able to capitalize off of four fresh tires on the final caution, and finished 11th. Through four Chase races, Busch has only top-10 result, a sixth last week at Dover. He is now 20 points behind the lead, nearly half a race back. However, as we have seen with Jimmie Johnson the last two weeks, all that it takes is a couple of top-2 efforts to get back in it.

Despite a quiet afternoon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. actually moved up to ninth in points. It was a decent day for Junior, as he ran near the top-10 and ended the day with a 14th-place effort, which is his best finish since running third at Chicago three weeks ago. With Jeff Gordon blowing an engine, it helped Earnhardt move up to ninth, where he is 43 points behind the top spot, almost a full race back.

As previously mentioned, Jeff Gordon’s blown engine with six laps to go relegated him to a 34th-place finish. Before the engine started going south, Gordon was very strong, and even ran second to Johnson late in the going. In the end, the expired motor cost him in the standings, where he is tenth overall. Gordon, who was considered to be a favorite to contend for the Chase, is now pretty much out of the running for this years championship.

Ryan Newman’s dissappointing Chase campaign continues. Since his eighth-place finish at the opener in Chicago, Newman has now placed 25th, 23rd, and most recently, an 18th-place result at Kansas. He remains 11th in points, 54 markers off the pace.

Rounding out the Chase participants sits Denny Hamlin, who has yet to record a top-10 in the Chase. His 14th-place effort on Sunday was his best performance so far, and was a top-10 car throughout the race. He wasn’t able to take advantage of four fresh tires on the final stop as many others were able to, and had to settle for a solid – but not spectacular – finish. Not only is he 79 points out of first, but he is a good 25 points behind 11th place Newman.

As for the “best of the rest,” Kasey Kahne’s runner up finish moved him closer to the 13th spot. He gained five points on Clint Bowyer, whose strong seventh place result keeps him in the 13th spot. Pole sitter Greg Biffle also had a strong race, finishing one position behind Bowyer, but scored as many points due to the one point bonus for leading a lap.

Standings: 1) Carl Edwards 2161, 2) Kevin Harvick -1, 3) Jimmie Johnson -4, 4) Brad Keselowski -11, 5) Matt Kenseth -12, 6) Kurt Busch -16, 7) Tony Stewart -19, 8) Kyle Busch -20, 9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -43, 10) Jeff Gordon -47, 11) Ryan Newman -54, 12) Denny Hamlin -79.

Best of the Rest: 13) Clint Bowyer 848, 14) A.J. Allmendinger -20, 15) Greg Biffle -22, 16) Kasey Kahne -31, 17) Mark Martin -39.

Tracking The Top 35: Kvapil and Front Row Motorsports Close the Gap on TRG Motorsports

Travis Kvapil, returning to Front Row Motorsports’ No. 38 this week, drove the No. 38 car to a very respectable 27th-place finish. In doing so, the team was able to gain ten valuable points on the TRG Motorsports team, whose driver Andy Lally went out of the event just 72 laps in due to overheating. Lally was only able to get 37th, and his cushion over that 36th spot is not as comfortable as it was just last week.

There was also a swap between the 32nd and 33rd spots. Tommy Baldwin Racing was able to leapfrong Germain Racing, whose driver Casey Mears pulled in the car in after 16 laps due to brake issues. As a result, they were left with a 42nd-place outing. TBR. on the other hand, ended the day in 31st with Dave Blaney behind the wheel.

31) Front Row Motorsports (No. 34 – David Gilliland), +129 points ahead of 36th.
32) Tommy Baldwin Racing (No. 36 – Dave Blaney), +55 points ahead of 36th.
32) Germain Racing (No. 13 – Casey Mears), +50 points ahead of 36th.
34) FAS Lane Racing (No. 32 – Mike Bliss), +48 points ahead of 36th.
35) TRG Motorsports (No. 71 – Andy Lally), +28 points ahead of 36th.
36) Front Row Motorsports (No. 38 – Travis Kvapil), -28 points behind 35th.
37) Robby Gordon Motorsports (No. 7 – Reed Sorenson), -90 points behind 35th.
38) Wood Brothers Racing (No. 21 – Trevor Bayne), -134 points behind 35th.
39) MaxQ Motorsports (No. 37 – Josh Wise), -213 points behind 35th.