Three down, seven to go. Kansas Speedway played host to the third race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and we left with a new (but familiar) name atop the Sprint Cup standings. Four time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson came into the race 35 points behind Denny Hamlin and left with an eight point advantage over the driver of the No. 11 Toyota. The Chase features some of Johnson’s best racetracks, so it’s no surprise to see him leading the points and it would be no surprise if he kept it.
Here are some questions on my mind following the Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway…
What happened between David Reutimann and Kyle Busch? … Most of you probably remember the war of words between Reutimann and Busch following the fall race at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season. Busch criticized Reutimann’s driving skills and Reutimann fired back calling it the “stupidest comment I’ve ever heard anybody say.” On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Busch got into Reutimann on lap 52 and admitted after the race the incident was entirely his fault. On lap 155, Reutimann slid up into Busch’s left rear quarter panel, wrecking himself and ruining the rear end of the No. 18 Toyota. Busch finished 21st one lap off the pace and Reutimann finished 35th 11 laps down. Busch criticized Reutimann for retaliating in a Chase race, thereby affecting Busch’s chances of winning the championship. Amanda Vincent posted a great article here on Skirts and Scuffs asking if Chase drivers should be treated differently. Be sure to give us your thoughts in the comments section!
Is the championship over? … Since the Chase’s implementation in 2004, only twice has the points leader after Kansas NOT gone on to win the championship. In 2009, Mark Martin led Jimmie Johnson by 18 points following the Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway. Johnson went on to win the championship. In 2006, Johnson was in eighth and 165 points back from points leader Jeff Burton. However, following a 24th place finish at Talladega Superspeedway the following week, Johnson never finished outside the top two until the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he finished 9th. Johnson has the best track record in the remaining seven races in the Chase among any of the other Chase drivers and would need somewhat of a meltdown to lose this championship. Johnson’s closest competitors (Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards) have never won a Sprint Cup Series championship but at this point have the best shot at unseating Johnson and company from their four year reign. Can any of them do it?
Is Greg Biffle the most underrated driver in the garage area? … Most people would give that title to drivers like Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton. However, Biffle continually flies under the radar even though since 2004 he hasn’t been any lower than 14th and points and could become the first driver to win a championship in all three of NASCAR’s major series (Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and Sprint Cup Series). Biffle won his second race of the season last Sunday and his second victory at Kansas Speedway. He is currently eighth in the points, 85 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. He probably won’t win the championship, but then again he has snuck up on us before. Biffle may not be the greatest driver in the 43-car field on any given Sunday, but we should definitely give him more than just a passing glance.
Where did Paul Menard come from? … After a restart on lap 196, Paul Menard took the lead from Jamie McMurray after some pit strategy calls. He proceeded to lead for 11 laps and had a strong lead over second place until race winner Greg Biffle drove up and took it from him. It was surprising seeing Menard up there, as the driver of the No. 98 tends to take some criticism from race fans that say Menard is only racing because of funding from his father John Menard. Though that may be true to a point, Menard has had his moments in the spotlight. Menard was in the top 10 points for the first six races of the season and has five top 10s thus far in 2010, more than all of his top 10s in any previous seasons combined. Menard might deserve some of the criticism he gets, but he’s shown marked improvement this season.
Are the Fords “back”? … Paul Menard wasn’t the only Ford enjoying a strong run in the Price Chopper 400. Roush Fenway Racing cars Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and even Matt Kenseth led some laps on Sunday and all three of them finished in the top seven. A.J. Allmendinger also finished in the top 10 after leading several laps the previous weekend at Dover. For most of the first half of the season, one of the biggest stories was the downfall of RFR and Fords in general. Now it seems they are picking up the pace and a few of their drivers could be dark horses for this championship.
Bonus questions: Is it just a coincidence that the drivers in the cutesy Toyota Sponsafy-Your-Ride commercials got together on Sunday? … Couldn’t Harvick have been a little happier? … Did Biffle maintain enough speed to cross the start/finish line this time around?
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.