Coming off a disappointing finish last week in Dover, Del., Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle responded by winning his 16th career Sprint Cup Series race, second of the year and first of the 2010 Chase. Leading three times for a total of 60 laps, Biffle led Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag by more than seven seconds, moving him up one spot in the standings to eighth, 85 points behind the defending four-time champion.
“You know, everybody asked us last week if we're out the Chase, have we given up, whatever the case was,” Biffle said after his victory. “The 16 team will never give up. We're just going to approach each race like we did today: qualify the best we can, do the best we can in practice, execute the best we can at the racetrack. We're going to go to California and do the same thing…Charlotte Motor Speedway, you know, see what happens.”
Following a race in which a number of Chase drivers stumbled, Sunday’s 400-mile race at the Kansas Speedway saw few mistakes by those chasing the championship.
While Johnson was able to come home in the second spot, that was not indicative of how he ran throughout much of the early stages of the race. Starting 21st, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus struggled to get a feel for the No. 48 Chevrolet and it showed at the start of the race.
Fighting through traffic, Johnson lost five spots on the first round of pit stops and was forced to gain those positions back on the race track. Taking advantage of the poor track position, Johnson hit pit road under the second caution of the day to make adjustments to their car while the leaders stayed out.
The adjustments and his patience paid off as the No. 48 fought its way through the field, breaking into the top-5 after green flag pit stops cycled through on Lap 240. With Biffle in command of the race, Johnson methodically worked past Matt Kenseth for third and then fought a spirited battle with Tony Stewart for the second spot.
“Honestly, I drove 400 miles with my tongue hanging out just sawing at the wheel trying to get everything I could,” Johnson said. “Very pleased to have walked that fine line and didn't make any mistakes. My crew did the same. Chad called a great race. We needed all those things to work together in order to get a good finish and we did that.”
Fighting back from slow stops on pit road, Kevin Harvick was able to move closer to the Chase lead – within 30 points – thanks to a third place finish. With a strong car on the long runs, Harvick was able to pick off Kenseth and Stewart in the closing laps.
"We feel good about where we're at,” said Harvick. “That's what got us here was those solid top-five finishes and the things that we did during the year. So we've just got to keep doing those things and keep our cars in contention to run up front and lead some laps and get those points and we'll see where we're at when we get to Homestead."
Stewart definitely needed a solid finish after disappointing finishes in the first two races of the Chase. The defending winner at Kansas, Stewart led four times for 76 laps during the middle stages of the race. When Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard took two tires under the fifth caution of the day, Stewart was mired in fifth and was never able to recover, finishing the day in fourth.
“I just couldn’t take off on restarts,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t get going in traffic. My car kind of sat up on top of the track and took a little bit to go. We’d get about 10 laps into it and it would be fast. Just gave up too much time up front.”
Coming into the day the points leader, Denny Hamlin struggled throughout much of the race. Starting 12th, Hamlin was never a contender and was in danger of falling a lap down before being saved by a caution. Continually working on the car, Hamlin was able to salvage a 12th place finish, but lost the lead in the Chase to Johnson by a mere eight points – the smallest margin after three races in the history of the Chase.
“You've got to make the most of your bad days and if this is a bad day for us, then we're going to have to rebound next weekend,” Hamlin said. “We're going to just keep fighting. That's all we can do.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, also fought an uphill battle Sunday in Kansas. Early in the going, Busch got into the back of non-Chaser David Reutimann, sending him spinning into the outside wall. While Busch was able to avoid any major damage, that contact would come back to haunt him nearly 100 laps later.
Multiple laps down to the race leader, Reutimann took his payback on Lap 154 when Busch went to move around the No. 00 Toyota on the outside. Exiting the second corner, Reutimann’s car drove up the race track and into the left rear tire of the No. 18 Toyota. The contact sent Reutimann spinning through the grass, but also bent the rear end housing and the track bar on Busch’s car – which was running seventh at the time.
More than frustrated following the contact, crew chief Dave Rogers worked hard keeping Busch calm and calling for the right adjustments. Entering the day third in the Chase, Roger knew if they went behind the walls for repairs their title chances would take a major hit. Instead, the crew worked hard on pit road and kept their driver on the lead lap until the closing laps of the race, when he finished 21st, the first car one lap down.
“These guys work their butts off and to put ourselves in the Chase and to have the opportunity to try to go after a championship and to have it end up something like that today. The guy (David Reutimann) was loose -- said it on the radio,” Busch said of their first incident. “He slid up off the bottom and I got into him unintentionally and just spun him out. My fault 100 percent, but then the retaliation to a guy that’s in the Chase that’s racing for something. He’ll be here next year. He could’ve wrecked me in any of the first 26 races next year. That would’ve been fine. It’s just hard to swallow something like a day like today where we had a solid top-five car going.”
Reutimann saw the incident much differently.
“He just rolled over me,” he said. “I’m on the bottom of the racetrack and he had the whole top of the racetrack to go to, and he run over me. I got wrecked. You guys can sugarcoat it all the time, but he wrecked me. You can tell me how bad he wants it, how hard he drives, how much he wants it above everybody else. That’s all fine. You guys can say all that, but he just wrecked me.
"I don’t care if you’re in the Chase or not. You need to think about who you’re running over when you’re running over them,” he added. “I don’t care who you are. If you’re in the chase, you have as much responsibility to drive with respect as I do, or anybody else. If you guys want me to feel bad, then yeah, I feel bad that our car got wrecked and it ruined our day. That’s what I feel bad about.”
With top nine drivers in the Chase separated by only 101 points, Busch’s recovery possibly saved his title hopes with seven races remaining. While some are looking at Johnson’s lead as a sign the Chase is all but over, it seems this year’s Chase is still open to anyone but Stewart (-127 points behind), Kenseth (-149) and Clint Bowyer (-252).
Next week the series heads to the Auto Club Speedway in California, then it is off to Charlotte, Martinsville, the ‘wild card’ race at Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and the season-finale in Homestead. If the next seven weeks are anything like the first 29, anything can and most likely will happen.
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Bristol Legends Crash
Rogers Admits Frustration, Refuses To Be Rattled
Edwards and Keselowski Meet With NASCAR
Harvick, Edwards Feuding
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