The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series traveled to Auto Club Speedway over the weekend for the Pepsi Max 400. It was the fourth race in the Chase, and for some of the Chase drivers, it threw a major wrench in their hopes to win the championship. It was hard to believe so much trouble could befall drivers who needed strong finishes.
For Roush Fenway Racing, the weekend looked like it was going to be a good one for the organization, especially after all four drivers had great runs at Kansas the previous weekend. Last week’s winner Greg Biffle had a blown engine early in the race on Sunday. A part failure sent Carl Edwards to the garage for fifteen laps, derailing any hopes the team had for a good finish. David Ragan had slowly worked his way through the field and was close to cracking the top ten until he was involved in a crash with just seven laps remaining. Matt Kenseth had engine problems, but held on to finish toward the back. It was a race that left many people wondering just what had happened to the three Roush Fenway Racing cars that suffered mechanical issues.
Greg Biffle: Start 7th. Finish 41st.
Last weekend, Greg Biffle left Kansas Speedway as the race winner so when he and his team headed to Auto Club Speedway, they were ready to get another great finish to remain in championship contention. After posting solid times in practice, Biffle qualified 7th in the No. 16 3M Ford on Friday. The green flag waved on Sunday, and in the first few laps, Biffle dropped back a couple positions to 9th. However, Biffle’s day would be cut short on lap 41 when the engine of the No. 16 Ford gave out.
There was nothing the team could do to get Biffle back in the race. He took his car behind the wall, and was left accepting a 41st-place finish. The finish caused him to drop to 10th in the standings, 215 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
Carl Edwards: Start 20th. Finish 34th.
Carl Edwards spent some time with kids from the Aflac Cancer Center over the weekend, and even the Aflac duck attended his first race on Sunday. He hoped to bring home the win on Sunday, but luck wasn’t on his side. Edwards qualified 20th on Friday in the No. 99 Aflac Ford, and on Sunday, just when it looked like he would start making a charge to the front, a mechanical issue sent him to the garage.
Once the race started, Edwards immediately began to drop back to 25th due to the tight-handling conditions of his car. With no cautions in the opening run, Edwards made his green-flag stop on lap 36 for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and wedge adjustments. He remained in the 25th position once stops cycled through. A few laps after he made his pit stop, the caution came out for teammate Greg Biffle having engine problems in the No. 16. Since Edwards only had about five laps on his tires, crew chief Bob Osborne told his driver to stay out in an attempt to gain track position. Edwards went from 25th to 10th for the restart on lap 46. The No. 99 Ford became loose once the green flag waved again, and when the caution came out on lap 54, Edwards pitted for more adjustments. It was after this pit stop that Edwards informed Osborne that the car had lost power. A tow truck had to push Edwards back to his pit stall.
The team took the car behind the wall once they figured out the ignition box was not the problem. In the garage, the team then checked the fuel system. Nothing was wrong with it. They soon discovered the problem was a broken rotor button in the distributor. With that problem solved, Edwards returned to the track, but he was fifteen laps down. Refusing to give up, Edwards and his crew worked hard to gain any positions they could.
In the end, Edwards finished 34th. He dropped to 7th in the standings, 162 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
David Ragan: Start 18th. Finish 32nd.
David Ragan came to Auto Club Speedway with the silver UPS Freight paint scheme on his No. 6 Ford. The car was fast in practice, but due to an early qualifying draw, Ragan qualified 18th. After fighting his way through the field on Sunday, Ragan looked poised to get at least a top-15 finish, but just like his teammates, it just wasn’t meant for him to get a good finish. With seven laps remaining in the race, he made contact with Kurt Busch. The resulting damage to the No. 6 Ford stopped him from finishing the race.
Once the green flag waved on Sunday, Ragan began to drift back as he fought a car that was free entering the turns. As if that wasn’t troublesome enough, the timing and scoring transponder in Ragan’s car wasn’t functioning properly and made it hard for his team to keep up with where he was running. On lap 36, Ragan made a green-flag stop for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. The caution for teammate Greg Biffle came out just five laps later, and Ragan pitted again, but this time crew chief Drew Blickensderfer called for a two-tire stop. After the team completed the stop, NASCAR called Ragan back to pit road to replace the faulty transponder. Ragan was not penalized for having to replace it, and returned to the track to restart in the 18th position.
Ragan’s crew continued to make adjustments on the No. 6 Ford throughout the race in an effort to improve the loose-handling car. Ragan had worked his way up to 17th, but scraped the wall on lap 119. The contact didn’t cause enough damage to make Ragan have to pit.
On lap 135, a caution came out for the No. 47 of Marcos Ambrose spinning out. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. The adjustment seemed to be what the car needed to come around. Ragan was up to 15th by lap 154, and slowly began to make his way toward the top ten. However, just when things were looking up, misfortune struck Ragan again. With 7 laps to go, Ragan was attempting to pass the No. 2 of Kurt Busch. Ragan almost had him clear until Busch got a run on the outside. Ragan cut up in front of Busch, resulting in the No. 6 Ford turning sideways, nose first into the wall, with Busch’s car against the right side, pushing him down the track.
The damage was too severe for Ragan to even make it to pit road like Busch had been able to. Ragan exited his wrecked car, and was credited with a 32nd-place finish. He is 24th in the standings.
Matt Kenseth: Start 3rd. Finished 30th.
Following their great run at Kansas Speedway last weekend, Matt Kenseth and his crew came to Auto Club Speedway hoping to build on the week before. Kenseth has seen a lot of success at the 2-mile speedway and has three wins there. The team had a fast car right from the start of the weekend. Kenseth posted solid speeds in practice, and qualified 3rd in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford. Just when it looked like Kenseth would have a great weekend, mechanical issues left him hanging on during the closing laps to finish 30th. It was a disappointing end to what could have been a promising run.
Once the green flag dropped on Sunday, Kenseth immediately moved up to battle the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya for the 2nd position. On lap 15, Kenseth passed the No. 1 of Jamie McMurray to take the lead. Once in the lead, Kenseth reported to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was just a bit loose off turn two and that the strong wind was making the car hard to handle entering turn three. Around lap 35, green-flag stops began, and Kenseth made his stop on lap 38 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. Shortly after he pitted, the first caution of the day came out for teammate Greg Biffle losing an engine in the No. 16. Under the caution, Kenseth told Fennig that the car was looser than it had been before the crew had made adjustments.
The following restart found Kenseth battling three-wide for position in a loose racecar. The caution came out again on lap 55, and Kenseth pitted for tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. The race restarted on lap 58, but the yellow flag waved almost as soon as the race restarted. Kenseth’s teammate Carl Edwards was having issues in the No. 99. Following Edwards’s mechanical problem, Kenseth began to wonder how his car would hold up. He restarted 9th on lap 62, and in the opening run the car was loose, but slowly the handling began to improve. Loose-handling issues continued to plague the No. 17, but Kenseth’s crew made adjustments every pit stop. He remained inside the top 10, until the team heard news from their driver they didn’t want to hear. On lap 161. Kenseth reported that something didn’t feel right with the car.
Kenseth said he was doing all he could, but the car just was not going anywhere. He began to drop back through the field. With smoke coming from the car and the engine threatening to go, the No. 17 Ford limped to the finish line in the 30th position.
The disappointing finish left Kenseth 11th in the standings, 241 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Race winner: Tony Stewart
While other Chase drivers had setbacks on Sunday, Tony Stewart wasn’t one of them. Even though the race came down to a green-white-checkered finish, nobody was able to stop him from taking the checkered flag. Congratulations to Tony Stewart and the No. 14 crew on their victory!
It looks like Roush Fenway Racing is out of contention for the championship. Will the organization be able to get any more wins in the remaining? Can Jimmie Johnson really accomplish his drive for five? If not, who will be the driver to stop him? Only time will tell.
The Chase continues…
Next up: Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, October 16, 2010.