Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Kenseth wins as Johnson's hope for a 6th title diminishes

Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR

Many of the Chase contenders did not fare well after the fifth race of the Chase to the Sprint Cup, including the five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

1. Carl Edwards - A successful race and another week atop the chart - By Holly Machuga

After a top-three finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards is still leading the series point standings. It was a successful run for the team as Edwards said that they had “this one circled on the schedule…”

After qualifying well, the Aflac team had fast pit stops and was running well the entire night. The only difficulty came post-race when Edwards and Kyle Busch shared words. Busch was unhappy with the fact that Kyle raced him hard, while Carl believed that racing hard for second and third is perfectly fine. In the post-race conference, Carl explained. “It just surprised me. Now he told me that he didn't mean to do it, and so I got to believe that, but I don't know what else there is to say about it. Just it's racing, and we didn't wreck, and we are going to race hard like that; that's just how I saw it.” 

2. Kevin Harvick (-5) Holding steady in second - By Lacy Keyser

Kevin Harvick really didn’t have an eventful night; he went into Charlotte just three points behind leader Carl Edwards and was looking to make up the gap.

Harvick would start 14th and was sure to have a car to beat, and the No. 29 car looked good as he quickly moved through the field. After the second caution, Harvick took two tires and restarted in second, but the two-tire strategy did not work as Harvick fell from second to 9th. Harvick did bounce back and finish sixth. He is still second in points and trying to make gains on Edwards. With five races to go, there is plenty of racing left in the season.

After the race Harvick talked about his Chase efforts so far. “We made it through the first five chase races this year," Harvick said. "We have had a lot of goals that we wanted to achieve this year and that was one of the goals we wanted to achieve was to get through these first five races, with not too much damage, so five points, if you would have told me we would come out of Charlotte with a only a five point deficit going into the next five races, I would be really happy. Everyone did a great job on our Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, wasn’t great but it was better at the end of the race then it was in the first half.” 

3. Matt Kenseth (-7) - Kenseth holds off Busch to win at CMS - By LJ Cloud
A victory for Kenseth propels hit forward in the Chase
standings. Credit: Brian Cleary/Getty Images for NASCAR
"That 17, man, he found something that none of us could find tonight and he just outdrove me," said Kyle Busch about Matt Kenseth's win in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night.

The No. 17 Fluidmaster Ford fielded by Roush-Fenway Racing finally did what few other cars were able to do the in the entire 346 laps under the lights Saturday night: pass. Kenseth skillfully set up and passed Busch on Lap 310, and despite challenges from Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards on a Lap 323 restart, held the lead to take the checkered flag in the fifth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kenseth scored his third win of the season and the 21st of his career. In a race that saw only 16 lead changes among 10 drivers over the 500-mile distance, track position proved crucial for everyone, just as Kenseth had predicted in pre-race interviews. Starting in second, Kenseth kept his car in sight of the leader through the whole race, consistently running in the top five. He led three times for a total of 46 laps, earning 47 points and moving him from fifth to third in driver's points in the Chase.

In keeping with his low-key personality, Kenseth maintained a cool, focused dialogue on the radio with spotter Mike Calinoff and crew chief Jimmy Finnig during the race, relaying information about track conditions and car handling. His only real shows of emotion were during the incident where Gordon, Kahne and Ragan spun to bring out a caution, and then when he crossed the start-finish line to take the checkered flag. He whooped, "Thank you boys, Thank you Jimmy Fennig, you're the MAN"

In the media center post-race interview, Kenseth, who won the Cup championship in 2003, expressed gratitude for having a team and cars capable of winning, but said that he doesn't really pay attention what everyone else is doing in the points. "All we have any control over is our car and ourselves and what we do ...We go out every week and, you know,  try to beat another 42 cars and try to finish as high as we can and that's how you get the most points." Kenseth said. "Five races is a lot of racing and anything can happen."

“I’m already thinking about Talladega.” 

4. Kyle Busch (-18) First Chase win evades Busch - By Rebecca Kivak

Kyle Busch came oh-so-close to his first victory in NASCAR’s Chase format Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In an impressive performance during the Bank of America 500, Busch methodically worked his way through the field after starting in the back of the pack. The driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota had the dominant car of the race before losing the lead to eventual winner Matt Kenseth. The second-place run propelled Busch four spots in the points standings to 4th, putting him in the mix for his first Sprint Cup title.

Busch qualified 25th for Saturday’s event, but was forced to start at the back of the field after an engine change. It was a setback that would make or break the No. 18, and Busch and his team rose to the occasion. After the green flag fell, Busch started his ascent to the top. By Lap 20 he had raced to the 25th position and cracked the top 15 by Lap 100.

The No. 18 pit crew backed up Busch with fast work in the pits, allowing Busch to gain spots after every stop. On Lap 130, Busch broke into the top 10 after gaining five positions on pit road. Another solid pit stop helped Busch return to the track ahead of Tony Stewart and claim the race lead on Lap 200. Busch thrived in the clean air, leading a race-high 111 laps.

Busch was on the cusp of breaking his winless streak not only in the Chase but at Charlotte, where he has yet to win in the Sprint Cup Series. But with just 25 laps to go, Matt Kenseth spoiled the No. 18’s party, passing Busch for the lead. After holding off Carl Edwards, Busch found himself in the runner-up spot once again, one year after finishing second to Jamie McMurray in the fall night race.

Busch was understandably frustrated after coming so close to the win. "(Saturday) night, we certainly ran really, really well. We ran strong. We drove up through the field and we got in position to win the race and was leading much of the majority of the end there,” Busch said. "(I) just got outdrove there by Kenseth, on the (last) restart. He just flat out drove right past me like I was standing still. The frustration is, again, we did not finish where we wanted to, which could have been a real win, a real highlight."

Though it's not a win, Busch’s second-place finish was a much-needed boost for a team who has struggled throughout the Chase.

5. Tony Stewart (-24) The roller-coaster ride continues with a strong run - By Katy Lindamood

Tony Stewart's 2011 Chase has been a roller-coaster ride. Capturing wins in the opening two races, Stewart was flying high atop the points standings only to see his team falter at Dover and Kansas. Saturday, Stewart hoped to prove that his team could rebound.

Starting from the pole position, Stewart was strong in the opening segment, pulling away from the pack to lead the first 42 laps. Stewart briefly lost the lead during pit stops but was able to resume the point position until Lap 49. Although no longer in the lead, Stewart did not fall outside the top 10. During a round of caution flag stops Stewart's team gambled taking two tires while most of the other competitors took four. This gamble payed off, allowing the No. 14 to lead Laps 148-196. Green flag pit stops on Lap 197 saw the team change four tires in a 13.7-second stop, which cost him the lead to Kyle Busch. Stewart again pitted under green with 98 laps to go. Complaining the the car was tight, the team made a major chassis adjustment. As Stewart was exiting pit road the caution came out: Trevor Bayne had ran out of fuel on the frontstretch. Because of his location on the track when the yellow flew flew, Stewart was caught a lap down to the leader, but after taking the wave-around was able to get back on the lead lap.

In all, the Mobil 1/ Office Depot Chevy led three times for a total of 94 laps but wasn't the car to win the race. Stewart finished eighth and now sits fifth in the standings, up two positions from last week with just five races left in the season. 

6. Brad Keselowski (-25) Finishes 16th, drops to sixth in the Chase - By LJ Cloud

"Feels like I'm pulling a parachute down the straightaway," said Brad Keselowski during the Bank of America 500 Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Keselowski started 26th in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, but because of a combination of poor track position, challenging track conditions, and a plain ol' bad break, he managed only a 16th-place finish after top 5s in three of the four previous races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Keselowski dropped from fourth to sixth in driver points.

"What's most frustrating is when I don't screw up and they do in front of me, I still can't gain on them," Keselowski said to crew chief Paul Wolfe. Just getting to 22nd place was a challenge, and Keselowski's frustration began to show as the evening went on, commenting on both Trevor Bayne and Mark Martin bringing out ill-timed cautions as if those drivers' troubles were part of team orders to assist those teams' Chase contenders. For example, when Trevor Bayne's No. 21 ran out of gas and stopped on the track just four laps after Keselowski had pitted under green, Keselowski said he was, "willing to bet none of the Roush cars pitted."

Keselowski pitted on lap 285, but caution came out on lap 287 and he came out right in front of the leaders, putting him a second lap down and sealed his fate. The Blue Deuce wasn't handling well enough to make up the positions he lost, but he managed to work his way up to finish 16th. Three other Chase contenders finished worse than the No. 2 team, but that's not likely much consolation to Keselowski. 

7. Kurt Busch (-27) Struggles abound for the Double Deuce - By Amanda Ebersole

Rebounds make or break a championship-contending team; wins are not handed to any team in any series or professional sports. Kurt Busch is working for his shot at winning the Sprint Cup championship, though not without many struggles.

Starting in 20th position for the Bank of America 500, Busch's No. 22 car had handling issues all night long, making for a difficult race. Busch reported to crew chief Steve Addington that the car was "tight in the center and loose off" and that left Busch mid-pack for a majority of the race.

Finishing in 13th, Busch spoke of his frustrations after the race. "It was just a frustrating night for our Pennzoil Ultra Dodge," Busch said. "I thought we had the lucky dog there about halfway through the race and it was pretty confusing the way that the cautions fell. We were just tight in and loose off all night.  And we got bit twice when the caution came out right after we pitted under green. But we finally got the free pass and got back on to the lead lap and we at least came away with a respectable finish." 

8. Jimmie Johnson (-35) A hard hit on track and in the points - By Amanda Ebersole

The battered No. 48 heads to the garage after a hard impact with the wall.
Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson is the reigning five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, and for that reason he is often placed on a pedestal and labeled as invincible. Even Superman had his weakness - kryptonite. During the Bank of America 500, Johnson was struck with his kryptonite, a loose racecar.

Attempting to pass Ryan Newman on Lap 318, 16 laps remained and the two were battling for position. Though they never touched, Johnson got loose and lost control of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, hitting the outside retaining wall head on.

After being treated and released from the infield care center, Johnson stopped to talk to the media. "That one stung for sure." said Johnson. "I'm just thankful to have safe race cars, safe walls, softer walls. Everything did its job. It was a pretty big impact."

"It's unfortunate that we wrecked. We got into Turn 1 and the 39 was real tight on my outside and pulled me around. From there, I was just hanging on."

Johnson's hope of a title repeat may now be in doubt. Sitting 35 points behind, he will have to await the fate of the seven drivers ahead of him. However, Talladega, the site of one of his two wins this season, is next on the schedule and that can be a make-or-break weekend ... do not count Johnson out yet. 

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-60) Still believes in his team and hungry for that win - By Unique Hiram

Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the best finish for Hendricks Motorsports at the conclusion of the Bank of America 500, his promising night of a great finish quickly faded due to some costly pit road mistakes. He finished 19th, one lap down. Granted, Dale Jr. is a little deflated by the mishaps which have occurred over the past few weeks, but he is still optimistic about what his team can accomplish if they can minimize or elevate the mistakes going forward.

"We were sitting out there racing those guys that finished around 10th and pitted early, trying to gain a little ground on the leader that was coming to lap us. And the caution came out and trapped us down a couple laps," he said. "We got a couple wave-arounds and then had a loose wheel that cost us another lap. We just have to correct some of those mistakes. I can't fault Steve for trying to pit early, and do what he thought was right with the strategy. I thought that was a good call, just unlucky that the No. 21 (Bayne) ran out of gas or whatever happened to him."

"The loose-wheel stuff we just need to work on. I have a lot of faith in my guys. They will get it right; I believe in them. Not everybody is perfect and we will get that sorted out. I'm sure they will fight back next week and have a good week. We just had a couple of little circumstances like that, and that cost us a shot at finishing in the top 10."

The No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet team will be headed to a racetrack where their driver has 23 starts, five wins, nine top 5s and 12 top 10s.  If Dale Jr. can put himself in the position to be the car out front on the lap last, then there is a huge chance that he will be able to capture the checkered flag in "Earnhardt Country."

He is still currently sitting ninth in points, 60 behind leader Carl Edwards. 

10. Ryan Newman (-61) A small show of progress for a struggling team - By Amanda Ebersole

The Chase has clearly not gone the way Ryan Newman or the entire No. 39 team would have hoped as they sit 10th in points at the halfway mark.

Charlotte's race was a baby step for the team. Newman qualified in sixth position in a special Cookies for Kid's Cancer paint scheme. (For further info visit:

Running within the top 10 most of the night, Newman's only (major) setback came from a lengthy pit stop just shy of the 200-lap mark.

That seemed to fuel Newman. By Lap 300 he rebounded to fifth, but in the end he would settle for a 10th-place finish.

“We got a good, solid top 10, and we needed to get at least that much out of it tonight,” said Newman, who scored his eighth top 10 finish in 22 career starts at Charlotte. “I sure wish we could’ve finished a whole lot better than that. The balance of the car wasn’t all that bad through the course of the night, but we just didn’t seem to have the speed we needed to finish any better than we did. We had one bad pit stop in the middle of the race that cost us about five spots, but we made that up by the end of the race. We just didn’t have quite what we needed at the end to give us a better finish than we ended up with. We’ll take a top 10 here tonight and now it’s on to the next one.” 

11. Jeff Gordon (-66) Rough seas but still fighting on - By Unique Hiram 

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was running inside the top 10 (in eighth position) and looking toward a great finish until contact was made with the No. 6 (David Ragan) and No. 4 (Kasey Kahne) - only 43 laps to go until the checkered waved. On this particular restart, Ragan made it three-wide - running down on the apron - hitting Kahne who in turn clipped Gordon and sent them all spinning bringing out another caution.  

Prior to the start of the Bank of America 500, Gordon was asked about his thoughts about what has gone on in the Chase and moving forward from adversity: “Well, listen; this has been a great year no matter what happens. We were extremely excited about coming into this chase with the momentum that we had as a team and just the wins that we have had and the great things that are happening to this team. Even the great run that we had going into Kansas, prior to the problem on the re-start and the engine trouble was something that we had been doing a lot of this year; it is a lot of fun to do that. To fall back this far in the points is very disappointing.”

The No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team will be headed to a racetrack where their driver has 37 starts, six wins, 14 top 5s and 18 top 10s.

Gordon was the second highest finisher for Hendrick Motorsports in 21st, one lap down. He has dropped one position to 11th in points standings, 66 behind leader Carl Edwards. 

12. Denny Hamlin (-86) Rebounds with best Chase finish though too late - By Amanda Ebersole

The Chase is now halfway with five down and five to go; on the outside looking in is Denny Hamlin. Early on in the Chase, Hamlin suffered 31st and 29th-place finishes, putting him behind from the start. The No. 11 FedEx team, though making the Chase, has been missing something this year - that spark is not there in the driver nor the team.

Starting the race, Hamlin was in 17th. Battling a tight race car throughout the evening, Hamlin was able to slowly make gains in his position. Climbing to 12th at Lap 100, crew chief Mike Ford had made adjustments to get the No. 11 FedEx car handling a bit better.

As the laps clicked away, Hamlin steadily worked his way up to 3rd by Lap 300 in what would be his best performance in the 2011 Chase thus far.

In the end, Hamlin finished in ninth after dropping a few positions as the car was plowing tight. All in all, a great rebound for the 11 team and a shot of momentum for them to build on to finish the Chase. Hamlin still could work his way up and earn a spot in Las Vegas, that is possibly, so hold on - it's going to be down to the wire with five races to go.

Stay tuned for further Chase coverage. as the ladies of Skirts and Scuffs preview Talladega on Friday. Which Chase driver has the best stats at Dega and do stats even matter? Find out Friday. 
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Kenseth wins as Johnson's hope for a 6th title diminishes Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Kenseth wins as Johnson's hope for a 6th title diminishes Reviewed by Admin on Monday, October 17, 2011 Rating: 5