Battle to the wire as it should be
• With three races left in the Sprint Cup Series season, the two drivers who have won the most races and been up front the most – Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson – are tied atop the standings. Yes, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick are mathematically in the hunt, but for all intents and purposes, the next three weeks is man and machine vs. man and machine with two of the best drivers and organizations (Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports) NASCAR has ever seen. How could it be any better?
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• It became evident early Sunday, several drivers were purposely slowing while exiting pit road to end up in line which would allow them to restart the race on the inside line of the track (which clearly was the preferred line). At times, that effort seemed to create a logjam exiting pit road – an issue which NASCAR might need to address before it gets out of hand.
• Gordon’s win clinched the 11th consecutive manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet in the Cup series and the 37th overall for the automaker. “This championship is the result of teamwork by all the owners, drivers, crew chiefs, crews and technical partners,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports.
How the Chase contenders fared
1 Matt Kenseth (2,294): In his spring visit to Martinsville, Kenseth set a career-best mark for laps led at the track. Sunday, he did so again – leading a race-high 202 laps before finishing second. While tied with Johnson for the points lead, Kenseth holds the tiebreaker (most wins).
2 Jimmie Johnson (tied): For much of the race, Johnson and Kenseth never were far apart on the track. In fact, their respective teams were located next to each other on pit road, too. After leading 123 laps, Johnson’s car performance fell off slightly during the long, 77-lap, green-flag run which ended the race.
“It’s going to be a dogfight to the end. The way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that’s exactly what the fans want to see,” he said.
3 Jeff Gordon (-27) : Gordon was an unexpected addition to the Chase this season thanks to NASCAR chairman Brian France. Now, with three races left, he finds himself with a plausible chance to win the championship.
“That’s probably the most patience I’ve had to be here or in a race in a long time,” Gordon said. “I didn’t see Matt’s car fading like I though it would.”
4 Kevin Harvick (-28) : Early in the race, Harvick said if he could get a long green-flag run, he felt his No.29 Chevrolet could get to the front. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a long run until the end, but he made the most of it, finishing sixth.
5 Kyle Busch (-36) : Busch led 12 laps early but could never get back up front and in position to challenge for the win. He finished 15th.
6 Clint Bowyer (-55): Bowyer easily had his best performance of the Chase. He led twice for 60 laps,ended up third and clearly was gaining ground on second-place Kenseth at the end. “We were good, but we weren’t good enough,” Bowyer said. “This has been one of our best tracks.”
7 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-56): Earnhardt came into the race with high hopes. His car was fastest during Saturday’s final practice, but he was never able to lead a lap Sunday and finished eighth.
“This tire was a struggle for us last year, and the last time we were here and we felt like we made a lot of good gains on it in practice and had some good speed,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know what we have to do to get that extra bit.”
8 Greg Biffle (-58): Biffle rallied for a ninth-place finish, but he was none-too-pleased with Johnson, who he traded paint with a few times. While Johnson was conducting an interview with Motor Racing Network, Biffle grabbed him and got into a verbal confrontation with him. NASCAR officials separated the drivers.
9 Kurt Busch (-75): Busch got caught up in an accident with Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin on Lap 204 and his car was never the same afterward. He ended up a lap down and in 18th place.
10 Carl Edwards (-76) : Edwards struggled the entire race and twice knocked drivers out of the way – first Jeff Burton and then Travis Kvapil.
11 Joey Logano (-85): While Logano’s Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski eventually made his way up front, Logano struggled most of the race and finished 14th.
12 Ryan Newman (-106): Newman had an early-race problem with a speeding penalty on pit road and then later got spun by Harvick. He ended up in the garage with a 38th-place finish.
13 Kasey Kahne (-124) : The season probably can’t end soon enough for Kahne, who was collected in two accidents Sunday and ended up 27th.