Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Jimmie Johnson is back but was he ever gone?

And we are green for race No. 4 of the Chase to the Sprint Cup.
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Week 4 of the Chase to the Sprint Cup brought the series to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400. The 12 Chase contenders had a roller coaster ride of a day: Jimmie Johnson won the race, Jeff Gordon blew an engine and many were in between.

How did all 12 Chase drivers fare? Let us recap the race for you.

1. Carl Edwards - Rebounds are what make a champion - By Amanda Ebersole

Once again leading the Chase standings, Carl Edwards could be crowned the king of rebounds during the Chase. Who would bestow that title to Edwards? Maybe Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who sat atop the Aflac pit box to root on his driver.

After qualifying in second place for the Hollywood Casino 400, Edwards immediately lost spots at the start of the race. The handling of the No. 99 Aflac Ford was off, not what the team had expected after practice and qualifying this weekend. Falling back to 25th at Lap 85, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne decided to make some big changes. The team added a shim to the splitter to keep it off the track, along with making large changes in air pressure and wedge adjustments. Upon restart, Edwards said to Osborne over the scanner, "If this were easy it wouldn't be any fun."

After struggling and being lapped, Edwards got the lucky dog and was starting to make gains slowly. At Lap 225, Edwards restarted the race in 17th and began picking off the spots one by one. With 10 to go, Edwards sat in 11th place.

The shakeup of the race came in the closing laps as Jeff Gordon lost an engine. This would result in strategy calls: stay out, pit for two, four, no tires and just gas? Edwards hit pit road for two right-side tires and an air pressure adjustment. A fast stop by the "Flying Ducks" (self-imposed nickname) got Edwards out in 10th to battle in the green-white-checkered finish.

Finally - the car sprang to life - better late than never! Edwards made it to sixth as the white flag waved and on the final lap was able to gain one more position, ending the race in fifth.

“What a fun race that was,” Edwards said. “There was certainly a lot of luck involved there. I wanted to win for these home fans at Kansas but this is like getting a win considering how it looked like it could have been. I have to thank my Aflac team. They did a great job today, they never stopped and we were able to work our way back up there. We were just off in the beginning but they worked hard all day and it paid off at the end.”

The 99 team has been able to score top-10 finishes in all four Chase races and is the only team to hold that honor. Edwards, Osborne and the entire No. 99 team are proving that when given obstacles, they rebound and that is what it takes to make a champion. Headed into the halfway mark of the Chase, Edwards sits atop the point standings.

2. Kevin Harvick (-1) Just one point makes a difference these days - By Melissa Wright

Kevin Harvick headed into Kansas as the points leader and left in second. He's now just one point behind new leader, Carl Edwards. After a grueling day of battling the setup on his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, he finished an amazing sixth. Throughout the entirety of the race, he exclaimed multiple times that his car was just simply terrible. From the adjustments to his tires, it appeared that nothing the crew tried to do to improve the car satisfied Harvick. At one point he merely suggested to them to just stop. Nothing was working. I found it ironic because Friday during the first practice, Harvick was at the top of the leaderboard but somehow managed to fall nearly to the bottom of the scoring pylon during the last and final session. Regardless of how many attempts they made to improve prior to qualifying, the points leader started the Hollywood Casino 400 in 14th.

On Saturday, he had a good run in his final Nationwide Series race of the season, in which he also had a sixth-place finish. Harvick was scheduled to race one last time for the season at Texas Motor Speedway, but Clint Bowyer will be now be piloting the car.

On Monday, Harvick is expected to visit Bryson of Bryson's Fuel. Once I had posted on Facebook that I was assigned to do the Chase race coverage on Kevin Harvick this weekend, I received this response as a comment, "Bryson thinks Kevin is the bombdiggity! Kevin will be taking the time on Monday to meet Bryson after their competition meeting! It's Bryson's big surprise before we have to go for his chemotherapy at Levines I'll post pictures!!" And they went on to post this as their status on their Facebook, "And my pick for the day...Kevin Harvick! Always makes for a good Monday and tomorrow needs to be an extra special Monday!! Oh it already is going to be!!! But still want him to win cause he is the bombdiggity!!!". Harvick may not have won the race, but he has certainly won over a few good fans. (To learn more about Bryson and Bryson's Fuel, read The story of Bryson's Fuel.)

During the post-race interviews, Harvick had said, “It was a long day to say the least. But everyone on the Budweiser Chevy just kept adjusting and nothing seemed to work right today as far as our adjustments were going, so we kept swinging at it and that next to the last pit stop, we put four tires on and that helped us get through the traffic. I knew we were going to be close to the cutoff line there of when the guys would pit but the No. 22 (Kurt Busch) and I stayed out and everybody behind us pitted. So Carl Edwards) came with two tires there in the end; but all in all, it was a great save for everybody on the Budweiser Chevy.

“Well everybody on our Budweiser Chevrolet did a good job. I am ready to get out of Kansas, I am tired of eventful days. We had an eventful one yesterday and an eventful one today. These guys didn’t give up. We put four tires on the next to last stop and I knew that we were going to be close to the cut-off point there coming to that last caution, and I saw the No. 22 hint to stay out, so I stayed out and everybody else pitted. We should have pitted there, that is my fault, but good job for our Budweiser guys and get on out of here!”

Next week the series will be in Charlotte for the Bank of America 500. Maybe the No. 29 team will be able to regain that top seed in the Chase once again.

3. Jimmie Johnson (-4) Winning Kansas and the manufacturer's championship all in a day's work - By Holly Machuga

After many thought that Jimmie Johnson was out of contention for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, the 48 team answered with a win at Kansas this past weekend.

Johnson on his second win of the season: “Yeah, just an awesome performance for the Lowe's team top to bottom. Very proud to have won 55 races and tie Rusty Wallace. That is a huge, huge honor. Very proud, too, to win Rick his 199th win for Hendrick Motorsports, and also we helped Chevrolet clinch the manufacturer's championship today. So huge day, and also just very fortunate to drive for Rick and Chad and drive this race car.”

Prior to the race, he was sitting fifth in the point standings, which was not bad considering that they were as low as 10th earlier on in the Chase. It has been an up and down season for the team, but they’ve shown their potential!

4. Brad Keselowski (-11) Bouncing back to a 3rd-place finish and 4th in the Chase - By Lacy Keyser

June’s race winner was back at the track where he got his first Cup win with Penske, the one that got people talking. Keselowski started off the race at Kansas looking not so hot. For some reason his car just didn’t seem alive and Keselowski made it clear he wasn’t happy with his equipment. But despite that, Keselowski was in the top 10 most of the day. Crew chief Paul Wolfe had Keselowski pit early during green flag stops, which proved to pay off very well for the No. 2 team.

The Miller Lite team made great time and were racing in the top 5 with about 27 to go when a caution came out. Everyone pitted, but Wolfe had Keselowski stay out and capture the lead. But while most had fresh tires, Keselowski took the green flag and was off leading for a few laps until leader Jimmie Johnson came and took the lead back and went on to win the race. Keselowski would close his day third and bounce back from his bad day in Dover. Keselowski is now fourth in the points, 11 points out of the lead.

Brad Keselowski's post-race quotes:

"Good teams have good cars; they're best at their end and fastest at their end," he said. "They use good pit strategy and stay strong through adversity, and I feel like I just have a really good team.

"We're executing very well as a group and as a team," he said after the race. "Just the things that we can control we're doing very well. ... We were about a third- or fifth-place car today and brought home a third, so (I'm) proud of that effort."

5. Matt Kenseth (-12) Taking it one race at a time - By Katy Lindamood

During Friday's media session at Kansas Speedway, Matt Kenseth said in regard to stepping up his performance, "For me, I take one race at a time and try to get my car running as fast as it can and get the best finish I can that week. I am not really worried about what everyone else is doing. All you can do is control your own car and your own team and to a certain extent, most of the time, the outcome of that race for your efforts." On Sunday, the No. 17 came up short for the victory but finished solidly inside the top 5.

Starting Tthe Hollywood Casino 400 from the fourth position, Kenseth's car was fast from Lap 1 and by Lap 41 the Crown Royal Fusion had taken the lead. Although Kenseth led a total of 26 laps and remained in contention for most of the race, an ill-handling race car got the better of him and may have cost him the win. Initially reporting the car had tightened up, the crew made swings at it during pit stops in a effort to rectify the handling issues. The changes went too far at one point and Kenseth reported that the car had gone from tight to loose, forcing him to drop back a handful of positions. The team made adjustments during the final round of pit stops that allowed the 2003 series champion to pick off a few cars and finish fourth.

Following the race Kenseth said, "Overall it was a good day for us on the Crown Royal team. I feel like we were off all day and we were still able to come home with a top 5, so that was really good obviously. We had great track position, great qualifying, and great pit stops so that kept us in the game today.”

Kenseth gained two spots in the standings and is just 12 points behind leader Carl Edwards in fifth.

6. Kurt Busch (-16) Driving with banana peels? - By Katy Lindamood

You never know what you will hear over Kurt Busch's radio during a race. On Sunday, Kurt seemed to be obsessed with bananas, or more appropraitely, the banana peels. On the heals of last weekend's win at Dover, Busch started the Hollywood Casino 400 in the 17th spot. Unfortunately for Busch, a repeat performance and a trip to victory lane were not in the cards.

In the opening laps, the driver of the Double Deuce complained about the handling of the car and went as far as comparing it to feeling like he was driving on banana peels rather than ashpalt. Although the team, under the direction of crew chief Steve Addington, made several adjustments throughout the day, the No. 22 Dodge was never in contention for the win, staying mid-pack for most of the day. At one point they were one lap down, but were able to get back on the lead lap thanks to the lucky dog award. Busch brought his ill-handling car home in the 13th position, which wasn't bad given the issues, but not the day the team had hoped for. Busch dropped two positions in the standings and with six races to go, his title hopes are dwindling, especially with Talladega lurking around the corner.

7. Tony Stewart (-19) Slide in the pits leads to a slide in the points - By LJ Cloud

“I’m in a f***ing hurry today, I’ve got s**t to do!”

Tony Stewart might have been in too big a hurry in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, turning what could have been a fight for the win … OK, a fight for second, because it’s not likely anyone would have challenged Jimmie Johnson for the win … into a 15th-place finish when Tony slid through his pit stall during a late-race caution. On the team radio he said that was “100% my fault.” Part of his foot hit the accelerator when he braked to enter his pit stall.

With 10 to go, Smoke was in seventh place, but he came out of the pits in 17th and was only able to make it up to 15th before the checkered flag flew.

Starting in 23rd, Stewart sliced the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil One Chevy through the field to fifth place by Lap 34. He didn’t lead a lap this race, but he ran second and third from Lap 34 through Lap 205 with very little commentary on the radio other than that the car was tight in the center until close to the end. A poor restart put him behind a bit, but was he was a threat to win until that final stop.

Stewart led the Chase going into Dover last week on the strength of his wins at Chicagoland and Loudon. He dropped to third after his disappointing 25th-place finish at the Monster Mile. Now he’s dropped to seventh, 19 points behind leader Carl Edwards and three points behind sixth-place Kurt Busch.

Nevermind the fence. With six races to go in the Chase, Smoke might need to send his crew on a scavenger hunt for Jimmie Johnson’s golden horseshoe.

8. Kyle Busch (-20)  Busch still looking for a top-10 at Kansas - By Genevieve Cadorette

Kyle Busch hasn't found much success at the Kansas track. He's finished in the top 10 once, but today, with a successful year behind him, he started the Hollywood Casino 400 in the third position and ran a strong race until the final laps. Busch maintained a consistent position without many eventful advances or any real problems. He did fall behind in the beginning, telling crew chief Dave Rogers that he was "loose, loose, loose."

He stayed in the top 10, however, and led eight laps.

Busch was unable to hold on to the top positions in the end; he finished 11th, putting him in the eighth position for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship title, 20 points behind the leader.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-43) Running strong despite the numbers - By Amanda Ebersole

Looking at the finishes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. just in the four Chase races, he has finished third (Chicagoland), 17th (Loudon), 24th (Dover) and at Kansas he finished in 14th. Despite those numbers, Junior and crew chief Steve Letarte have been making great strides for the No. 88 team. Their communication level is there: Junior has the confidence, Letarte has seemingly invigorated Earnhardt and put a pep in his step ... and his driving.

Starting the race in 18th, Earnhardt Jr. had to work his way up from mid-pack. By the green flag pit stops on Lap 65, Earnhardt had worked his way up to 15th and the team added some rubber to the rear of the car, trying to adjust on loose conditions. After the pit stop, Junior said on his radio, "Really didn't do much for it. Nothing has changed. Feels like it's rolled over on right side, didn't feel the rubber really ... It's loose off but, it's not flat. Rolls way over to RR ... Soft on RF and RR. Gets tight. Rolls loose off. Sits on the rear bar ..."

By Lap 192, the car had changed for the worse per Earnhardt's reports to Letarte. His complaint was that changes on air pressure were making the car inconsistent as far as handling. At this point, he was 11th.

In the closing laps, Earnhardt's position held steady. He finished in 14th, which was not reflective of his day. At one point, Earnhardt was within the top 10 and looked like he could have been a sleeper pick for the win. The win instead went to his HMS teammate, Jimmie Johnson.

After the race, Earnhardt said, "Well, it was all right. We had a pretty tight car when the race started. And then there was a run in the middle of the race where I couldn’t have asked for the car to be any better. It was really fast. And near the end there we just had a lot of cautions and a lot of traffic and my car was real tight. In that dirty air, we just couldn’t get anything done. But I was better than we were last time here. We’ve just got to gain a little bit more on it. We’re getting there.”

Reflecting on his Chase, Junior said, “I just want to win a race. It’s a goal of mine right now to just go out there and win. Man, if we could do that, that would really, no matter what happened in the Chase, I think we’d be real happy with our season. We’ve made some gains. I think we’ve learned as a team that we need to be better and we need to work hard on the off-season to try present a better account of ourselves next season; but we’ve still got some racing left and I’m working hard to try to give us a good opportunity and the team is working hard too.”

10. Jeff Gordon (-47) Gordon doesn't finish the "Hollywood Casino 400" in Kansas - By Genevieve Cadorette

Jeff Gordon started the race in his familiar No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet at Kansas on Sunday in 10th position and quickly moved up six spots. Although he complained that his car was real tight in the center, and he wasn't very happy with his car by Lap 71, he maintained a top-5 run. He was heard on his radio saying his car was "lacking speed," but as hard as his car may seemed to have been for him to drive, he made some passes. He and Kyle Busch battled for second position and Gordon got away from the No. 18 car. Running second, directly behind teammate Jimmie Johnson, was his best run all day long, but Gordon was worried about the tires more than anything else, he said on the radio.

He ran very well until the 132th lap and led one lap for the bonus point. There was a caution for debris on Lap 219 and Gordon stopped for fuel; he re-started fifth but was unable to hold on to the spot, he fell to 17th and he informed his crew chief that the car was "un-drivable." He noticed there was smoke in his car and feared it was coming from the tires; the smoke kept getting worse and then he realized the smoke was coming from the hood. He even commented on the radio, "I don't think it's going to make it here, boys." They threw out a caution because the smoke coming from the hood was a bit dangerous. After the restart, he ran in 15th until his worse nightmare came true: with two laps to go, his engine blew. Caution came out and Gordon had to drive to the garage to park his car, ending a good day in 34th, as a DNF (did not finish). He is now 10th in points, 47 points behind the leader.

When asked if he knew exactly what happened, Gordon told the media, “No, I’m not sure. I started seeing smoke inside the car. We had a really bad restart there and got shuffled back. Our day was pretty much over anyway and we were going to finish maybe 15th or something. Right there I started what smelled like burning oil and I saw the oil temp start to come up and I felt like it was just a matter of time before it blew up. I’ve got to thank Quaker State because the thing lasted a lot longer than I thought it would.”

“It was a sequence of crazy events for us, day was going really well very proud of this team, gotta thank DuPont, Drive to End Hunger, everybody that was on board today, Pepsi, Quaker State, it was a heck of a performance for Quaker State motor oil today, cause I didn’t think it would last as long as it did. I don’t know what happen but my oil temp was just pegged for shoot, 30 laps and I knew it was just a matter of time, but to last that long was pretty amazing. That restart Tony Stewart took me three wide, all the way down to the apron, and we were on old tires and that just ruined our day right there. He did what he had to do, it messed us up but right after that we start getting smoke, we thought it was tire smoke, but it wasn’t it was under the hood, obviously it ended out day.”

11. Ryan Newman (-54) Struggles continue at Kansas - By Lindi Bess

Ryan Newman fought an uphill battle with his No. 39 from beginning. Finishing a disappointing 18th in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 NSCS race at Kansas Speedway, Newman struggled throughout the race. Both Ryan and his crew chief Tony Gibson continued to bring the car up to speed and did everything possible to make it competitive on the track: three rounds of track bar adjustments, changing of the tire pressure, and Gibson even threw in a wedge adjustment.

Things continued to get worse with a pit stop during Lap 128 where the team was hoping to smooth out the balance and handling issues; unfortunately, a missing lug nut forced Newman to pit a second time. The No. 39 ended up two laps down and never really got in the position to run with the leaders. Newman remained 11th in the standings but is now 54 points out of first place.

“We struggled with the handling all day,” Newman said. “It was pretty frustrating but I’m proud of how we rallied back from two laps down.  Just wish we wouldn’t have struggled so much.”

The series moves onto Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for Sprint Cup's fifth race of the Chase. Let's hope the Stewart-Haas No. 39 team can find whatever their problems are and move their chances back up in the Chase for the Championship.

12. Denny Hamlin (-79) Missing out ... - By Rebecca Kivak

Denny Hamlin came to Kansas hoping to contend for the win or at least get his first top-10 finish in the Chase. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver did neither as he struggled throughout Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. Despite a late-race move, Hamlin finished 16th – his highest finish in the four Chase races, but not enough to gain ground in the point standings. Hamlin remains in 12th but has fallen even further back in points, now 79 behind leader Carl Edwards.

Hamlin rolled off the grid Sunday in seventh place, a promising start. But by Lap 6, he dropped to 10th, and he spent the majority of the race mired in the 10th-12th spots. Hamlin battled a car that was first tight off the corners, then loose, then too tight overall. Despite crew chief Mike Ford’s adjustments, the No. 11 FedEx Toyota never came around to Hamlin’s liking.

After the fifth of the race’s six cautions on Lap 240, the No. 11 took a gamble and stayed out, hoping to gain track position and pull out a good finish. Hamlin restarted second, but it was short-lived as the No. 11 dropped like a rock through the field. After a poor restart on the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin crossed the finish line 16th, increasing his points deficit from 68 to 79 behind the leader.

 “We were just struggling pretty much all day. We were right around 10th place. We had a bad restart there at the end, and we finished 16th. Just frustrating because I feel like we’re better than what we’re showing. We just got to work on our stuff and get better. Everything right now needs to get better,” Hamlin said after the race.

Somewhat mysteriously, Hamlin added, “I think we know what direction to go in — whether we can get there or not — got to have cooperation from everyone. People need to be open-minded to make changes. We’ll just see where it goes from there.”

With a points deficit of nearly two races behind, Hamlin is out of the championship battle. Sitting in 12th, he’s also out of a seat at the Sprint Cup Series’ annual end-of-the-year banquet unless the No. 11 team can become more competitive in the last six races.

Skirts and Scuffs' Charlotte preview of the 12 Chase drivers will be posted Friday.
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Jimmie Johnson is back but was he ever gone? Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Jimmie Johnson is back but was he ever gone? Reviewed by Admin on Monday, October 10, 2011 Rating: 5