Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Recapping the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

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Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Cool temperatures and new tires caused problems at Kansas Speedway this weekend. In the end Kevin Harvick walked away with the hardware.

Here’s how the 13 Chase drivers fared in the fourth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

1. Matt Kenseth (2,183 points)
by: Carol D’Agostino

The Hollywood Casino 400, a 15-caution losing proposition for many drivers, was a bit kinder to Matt Kenseth. Kenseth escaped relatively unscathed, but with a much narrower lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson – only three points.

Kenseth started the race in seventh place. Coming off a Nationwide Series win on Saturday, he had momentum on his side, but like most of the other teams, the No. 20 team struggled with the new Goodyear tire and treacherous track conditions.

"I haven't had to drive a car like that in a long time. Everybody's on the same tire so you can't blame that. It was just incredibly treacherous. I was just so loose I was ready to crash pretty much all of the race."

Despite the challenges, Kenseth led once for 21 laps, and finished in 11th place after restarting 28th with just 35 laps to go. This is the first time he has finished outside the top 10 since the Chase began four races ago.

This week the Chase comes to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Over the past five years, Kenseth has an average finish of  12.8 at the Bank of America 500.

Charlotte statistics: 2 Top 5s; 3 Top 10s; Wins 1

2. Jimmie Johnson (-3)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Jimmie Johnson came into Kansas looking to make a gain on Chase leader Matt Kenseth. Fifteen cautions and a power failure with two laps to go, he managed to do just that. He shaved five points off Kenseth's lead, and now sits only three points out of first place in the Chase standings.

Johnson hovered around the top 10 all day after starting in the third position. Battling a tricky Kansas track and a new tire from Goodyear didn't make the day any easier. Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team helped Johnson stay toward the front, but he was never able to gain the track position he needed to make a run for the win. With two laps to go, Johnson lost power in the car. It looked as if the rest of the field would pass him on the way to the checkered flag, but somehow he only lost one position in the closing laps, bringing the car home in sixth place.

"All in all it was a crazy day," said Johnson after the race. "There were weird restarts, wacky restarts, a lot of chaos there. Then caution after caution for who knows what ... we rebounded from all that, passed a lot of racecars, and then with two to go, we came down the back and it started shaking real bad. I thought it was over, but I limped it around and got to the finish line. It started running down the back coming to the checkered (flag), so I was at least able to maintain over whoever was in seventh there."

Kenseth's 11th-place finish helped Johnson catapult to only three points out of first place going into Charlotte this weekend, also known as "the house that Jimmie built." He is known for running strong at Charlotte. As the Chase hits halfway in NASCAR's backyard, the battle for the title is just heating up.

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Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
3. Kevin Harvick (-25)
by: Lacy Keyser

Starting on the pole looked to be in Kevin Harvick's favor on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. He would lead a total of 138 laps, but that's not all. Harvick took home the checkered flag after a dominating performance. This proves the No. 29 team is hungry for the championship.

Harvick may have had the strongest car for most of the day, but an ill-timed caution on Lap 87 nearly cost him the chance at the win. Harvick elected to pit under green, not knowing the caution would come out moments later. He would restart 25th, which led to frustration for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

On Lap 142, while the leaders pitted, Harvick took a gamble and stayed out. This decision put Harvick back at the front of the pack and set him on a course for victory lane.

“To sit on the pole and win the race is obviously a great weekend,” Harvick said on his day. "And controlling our own destiny by doing that, putting ourselves closer to where we need to be with the championship race. We'll just keep having fun and keep doing what we're doing.”

Next weekend we head to Charlotte; Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 back in May. Is it possible Harvick will sweep Charlotte?

4. Jeff Gordon (-32)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Since Jeff Gordon was added as an unprecedented 13th driver to the Chase, the four-time Sprint Cup champion has made the most of the opportunity. Gordon gained more ground in the championship standings after an impressive third-place finish at Kansas, jumping one spot to fourth. The Hendrick Motorsports driver overcame an unfortunately timed caution and a tense battle with Kurt Busch to claim his third consecutive top-5 finish in the Chase.

Gordon started 14th in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. The No. 24 team worked to improve the racecar's handling, and Gordon was able to drive up into the top five. But Gordon got an unlucky break when the third caution of the day came out on Lap 88. Gordon was making a green-flag stop and was trapped on pit road when the yellow flag waved. Restarting all the way back in 28th, Gordon was forced to play catch-up. By the time the eighth caution came out on Lap 156, Gordon regrouped and was running seventh.

For much of the race, Gordon and fellow Chaser Kurt Busch engaged in a thrilling battle for position. The two made contact, causing Gordon to brush the wall. After that, Busch also door-slammed Gordon, the driver of the No. 24 said after the race.

"With Kurt, it was really just hard racing," Gordon said. "I was fine with all of it up until he drove into my door on the back straightaway. There was just no reason for that. And these cars are so aerodynamically sensitive these days, every little thing like that makes a difference, and when he did that all of a sudden my car started pushing really, really bad, and luckily we got to fix it on the next couple pit stops."

The No. 24 Chevrolet sustained major damage, which the crew worked to fix. Their work paid off - Gordon was running 12th when the 14th caution came out. After getting right side tires only, he gained eight spots on pit road. After the 15th and final caution, Busch passed Gordon for second. Gordon held onto the third spot when the checkered flag flew.

After his third-place finish, Gordon made up seven points on Chase leader Matt Kenseth, whom he trails by 32 points in the standings. With six races to go, the drive for five is still very much alive for the No. 24 team.

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Ed Zurga/Getty Images
5. Kyle Busch (-47)
by: Katy Lindamood

One mulligan. That’s all any driver in the Chase can have and still have a realistic chance at winning the title. Kyle Busch’s mulligan came Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. Dropping two positions in the points after an accident ended his race, Busch’s championship hopes may once again end in disappointment.

Statistically speaking, Kansas Speedway has always been one of Busch’s worst tracks on the NASCAR circuit, though the driver of the No. 18 felt confident after a successful test session in July.

“This time around, getting the tire test done, getting some information with the car, getting me more suited to the racetrack with a different tire combination, we felt like it was a positive for us,” said Busch earlier in the week. “Certainly we hope those results will be indicative of how we run this weekend and we can have a better go of it.”

Busch’s weekend didn’t start out on a positive note. On Saturday during practice, the No. 18 made hard impact with the wall, forcing the team to a backup car for Sunday’s event. The car change sent the team to the rear of the field for the start.

From there things didn’t get much better. A transmission change in the backup car, a rush to the grid after being last in line for tech and radio troubles put the team behind the eight ball before the first lap.

On Lap 1, Busch avoided Danica Patrick, but in missing the wreck dove across the apron and spun in the grass. Busch made several trips to pit road during the first caution to assess the damage and change out the radio. Busch’s progress was slow, having made it into the 17th spot by Lap 100.

During the sixth caution, Busch stayed on the track while the leaders pitted. The decision allowed the team to move from 24th to second on the grid with the hope that clean air would improve the car’s handling issues. The Hail Mary move didn’t pay off as the M&M’s Camry continued to have handling difficulties.

Busch had fallen back to 17th when he and Juan Pablo Montoya made contact on Lap 187. Just like his first-lap spin, Busch sustained minimal damage from the impact, but it wasn’t the last time we’d see Busch bring out the caution.

While running in the 20th position, Busch and Edwards made contact and the 18 snapped loose, making hard impact with the wall. With a badly damaged racecar, Busch’s day was over and he’d fallen two spots in the standings after the 34th-place finish.

6. Greg Biffle (-44)
by: Stephanie Stuart

This was supposed to be a good weekend for Greg Biffle. Coming into the track where he holds his best average finish and two wins, he was looking to make up some serious ground on the points leaders as the Chase made its way into Kansas. A 13th-place finish was not what he had in mind.

After starting from 26th, Biffle and the No. 16 team battled a tough track and a new Goodyear tire that didn't help matters any. Fifteen cautions didn't help either, since the team could never find the balance on the long run that they were looking for. Biffle struggled with an ill-handling racecar most of the day, but was able to move through the field before eventually finishing 13th.

Biffle knows he has some ground to make up if he is to make a run at the title, but he also knows he can only control the things surrounding him and his team.

"We can only control what we do and what happens for them and what they do is their own destiny," he said when asked about his current points standings and what the team needs to do to move forward in the Chase. "It depends on how they run and what happens and how we run as to if we are in or out of it. If you are within 43 points going into Homestead, then you have an opportunity to win the title, if something happens to the leader early in the race and you win. I think that is the way you have to look at it."

The Chase will hit halfway this weekend in NASCAR's hometown of Charlotte. Biffle knows he will have to bring his best in order to shake things up at the top of the standings. He knows anything can happen, and has the will to fight to the end.

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NASCAR via Getty Images
7. Kurt Busch (-47)
by: Lacy Keyser

For Kurt Busch, Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway had the makings of a long day. After crashing his primary car in Saturday morning's practice, Busch had to start from the rear of their field. He was hoping to gain positions and make his mark on the 2013 championship.

Busch’s day was spent battling his way from last to the front. Not only did he battle his way in a backup car, but he managed to finish second. Finally after weeks of bad finishes and bad luck, Busch earned the solid finish he's been hoping for.

“Wow, what an unbelievable drive," Busch said about the day he had. "We battled hard to come from 41st and did this in a backup car. I'm just so proud of this team, the way these guys have worked all year. They deserve a win and I am sorry I couldn't deliver for them today."

The second-place finish moves Busch up two spots in the Chase. He went from ninth to seventh. Let’s see what Busch has in store for us in Charlotte this Saturday night.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-54)
by: Katy Lindamood

Following Kansas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits eighth in the standings, but that’s not indicative of how he’s run the last few weeks. An engine issue while leading and a missed entrance to pit road last weekend has forced the team to fight back through adversity.

On Sunday afternoon, Earnhardt Jr. had one of the strongest cars. Despite concerns with the new tire, Steve Letarte called for two tires on the first pit stop. The No. 88 restarted second alongside Harvick and had fallen back to third when green-flag pit stops began just before the ill-timed third caution. Earnhardt was able to benefit from the caution, having moved up to first before the flag flew. After a four-tire change and a slight air pressure adjustment Earnhardt Jr. retained his lead exiting the pits, but Matt Kenseth quickly took the top spot away.

A two-tire stop during the fourth caution put the Time Warner Cable Chevy at the top of the leaderboard, but a quick caution just moments later allowed Joey Logano to move past the 88 on the restart. The remainder of the day was spent within the top 10. Earnhardt Jr. went on to finish eighth as the series heads home to Charlotte next weekend.

9. Clint Bowyer (-55)
by: Beth Reinke


Amidst a caution-filled race, Clint Bowyer had a rather “vanilla” day after starting 22nd at his home track. He didn’t crash, spin or graze the wall, but from the get-go Bowyer’s car was loose in, tight in the center of the corners. The crew tried various changes during pit stops, but couldn’t zero in on the right adjustments to get their car handling well enough to run with the leaders.

“The number 15 team battled some handling issues early, but once we got some track position I thought we were pretty good,” Bowyer said. “The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota had speed and we did a great job getting up toward the front, but as the weather and track conditions changed we struggled a little bit getting the car to turn in the center of the corner.”

Around the halfway mark, 20-plus laps after taking four new tires and an air pressure adjustment, Bowyer said he thought the car was good enough to run up front, if they could get there. Six cautions and another pit stop later, he broke into the top five with around 60 to go. He ran as high as fourth, but after taking two tires on his final pit stop, steadily lost positions when the car once again wouldn’t turn well. He ended up 14th, finishing ahead of only three other Chasers.

“I thought for sure we were going to come out of there with a top-five. That would have really helped us gain some ground in the points. It didn’t turn out that way, but we’ll take what we got and move on to Charlotte.”

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NASCAR via Getty Images
10. Joey Logano (-59)
By: Rebecca Kivak

Kansas is growing on Joey Logano. Despite Sunday's caution-filled race, the Penske Racing driver notched his best career finish – fourth – at the 1.5-mile speedway, giving Logano back-to-back top-five finishes in the Chase. The strong showing vaulted Logano two spots in the point standings, 59 markers behind leader Matt Kenseth.

The driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford rolled off the grid fifth in the Hollywood Casino 400. Logano had a fast racecar, and on Lap 121 he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead. Logano led twice for a total of 33 laps on Sunday, the first laps he’s ever led at Kansas.

Following the race’s sixth caution on Lap 137, Logano was leading when he had some trouble in the pits. After taking two tires, Logano was exiting his pit box when he caught his front tire carrier’s legs. The tire carrier, Dave Littau, took a spill but was OK, continuing to work the race.

After leading again from Laps 157-170, Logano pitted during the race’s eighth caution and was the first car to take four tires, dropping eight spots on pit road. Restarting outside the top 10, the No. 22 was stuck back in traffic, but Logano powered his way into the top five with 16 laps to go. He crossed the finish line fourth.

Logano made huge progress at a track where his best finish had previously been 15th. After his engine failure at Chicagoland, Logano is demonstrating his team can be competitive in the Chase.

11. Carl Edwards (-60)
by: Katy Lindamood

Every driver aspires to win at their home track and Carl Edwards is no different. On Sunday he fell short of the win, finishing fifth. After last weekend’s woes at Dover, the solid finish is just want the team needs to rally through the final six races.

Edwards had a relatively uneventful day compared to many of his competitors. Starting from the 13th position, the No. 99 spent most of the day within the top 10 fighting handling issues that wouldn’t allow the car to make up many positions on the track.

Things got a bit tense when he and Kyle Busch got together late in the race. Busch’s day ended with a 34th-place finish while Edwards was able to use pit strategy to move back up through the field where he’d finish fifth.

12. Ryan Newman (-73)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Ryan Newman found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at Kansas, and it cost him dearly. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was caught up in a mid-race wreck in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, relegating him to a 35th-place finish. Newman took a major tumble in the point standings, falling a staggering five spots from seventh to 12th.

Newman started 17th in Sunday’s race at the 1.5-mile speedway and spent most of the day running mid-pack. He was riding in the top 20 on Lap 136 when Justin Allgaier hit the wall in Turn 2 and spun across the track, hitting Newman.

The No. 39 Code 3 Associates Chevrolet sustained heavy damage to the rear and right side. After his team tried to fix the damage on pit road, Newman was forced to go to the garage twice for more extensive repairs. He returned to the track on Lap 224 and finished 35th, 79 laps down.

Newman’s championship hopes have taken a serious hit. He came into Kansas 48 points behind leader Matt Kenseth; after Kansas, he now trails Kenseth by a whopping 73 points.

“There’s not much to say other than we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in an accident not of our making,” Newman said. “It’s definitely a disappointing day for all of us on the Code 3 Associates team.”

13. Kasey Kahne (-83)
By: Rebecca Kivak

The Hollywood Casino 400 was uneventful for Kasey Kahne. He started 15th and finished 15th at Kansas, with little action in between. Sitting 83 points behind championship standings leader Matt Kenseth, Kahne’s shot at his first Sprint Cup title continues to fade.

Kahne ran in the top 20 throughout Sunday’s race. The Hendrick Motorsports driver reported a loose racecar at the start. After the second caution on Lap 43, Kahne pitted and took four tires and a chassis adjustment. The tweaks helped the No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet find some speed, and Kahne broke into the top 10 by Lap 96.

After the day’s 12th yellow flag on Lap 197, Kahne restarted fifth, the highest he ran all day. But after the 13th caution, Kahne dropped back to 11th. Unable to make up ground, he crossed the finish line in 15th.

Kahne has yet to notch a top-10 finish in a Chase race this season. After Kansas, his title hopes are moving further out of reach.

Check back with Skirts and Scuffs on Friday for our Charlotte preview.

1 comments :

Thanks again for another fantastic recap...:)

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