Tag:Jeff Gordon
Posted on: October 13, 2011 4:34 pm

Jeff Gordon disappointed but not giving up

By Pete Pistone

Jeff Gordon came into the Chase with as much momentum as anyone. Unfortunately things have not worked out in the playoffs so far for the Hendrick Motorsports driver who fell to tenth place in the standings and 47 points behind leader Carl Edwards after his exit from last Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

But despite his now uphill challenge with six races to go, Gordon remains focused on the job at hand and refuses to throw in the towel until the bitter end.

You don’t let it linger long," Gordon said of his engine failure at Kansas that resulted in a 34th place finish. "We have already moved on from that. We are here in Charlotte, just focused on this race; it doesn’t matter if we won that race in Kansas or if we had the disappointing finish that we did have. You have to start focusing on the next race and we have already done that you learn from it, you try to grow from it, you go to the next race and try to be even better.”

The rarity of a Hendrick Motorsports driver losing an engine made Gordon's exit last week a strange development to say the least. Gordon says he unfortunately saw it coming earlier in the race.

"Yea, we scuffed a piston in the number one cylinder," he said. "You know, it is always concerning when it happens, we saw some things at Kansas earlier in the year and it seems to be a little more related to that track. The throttle trace and the demand on the engines. Not as concerned about it here, and I know I have the best engine shop in the world to address it, they can react fast, and we feel good from here on out.”

So with nine drivers ahead of him in the standings, Gordon begins his try for a come back Saturday night in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He refuses to wave the white flag and will approach the rest of the Chase with a positive attitude.

Nothing changes right now," Gordon said. "Nothing changed for us. We go to the race track to win that is what we have been doing every weekend.

“Obviously the Chase has not gone the way we had hoped. We realize in order to win the championship, we have to win a bunch of races, and the way we approached that doesn’t change. If we are mathematically out of it, or when that deal happens we might change our approach, until then it will stay the same.”

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: October 5, 2011 8:09 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 8:51 pm

New Phoenix a concern for some Chase drivers

By Pete Pistone

(A brand new Phoenix International Raceway will have a significant impact on the Chase for the Sprint Cup)

Many point to Talladega as the “wild card” race of the Chase each year, the stop that because of the unpredictable nature of restrictor plate racing has the most potential to shake up the standings. 

But there may be a new variable in the 2011 championship picture when the second to last race of the schedule rolls around at Phoenix International Raceway.

A massive restructuring, repaving and reconfiguration has transformed the one-mile track literally into a brand new facility.

A wider front stretch, graduated banking through the corners and a new look to the track’s signature dogleg on the backstretch in addition to a brand new asphalt racing surface await teams when they show up for the penultimate race of the Chase.

It may still say Phoenix International Raceway on the sign out front of the place but this is definitely not the same track that’s hosted NASCAR’s top series since 1988. 

“I think it is a really unique layout,” said Jeff Burton, one of more than thirty drivers who took part in a two-day test session at PIR this week. “The exit of turn two is very unique; very different; the back straightaway has a lot of banking and it’s like falling into a hole; it’s pretty cool and it is neat to do something different here.” 

The uniqueness of PIR and its near triangular layout has differentiated the track from others on the circuit over the years. This multi-million dollar makeover seems to have been successful in keeping the desert speedway’s personality intact – and then some. 

"It adds a new element and is a bit different racing than we've seen in the past," said Kyle Busch. "It seems like there's more room to race off of turn two. Maybe that means more area to pass over there." 

But after spending nearly two full days making laps around the new PIR, some are concerned about what kind of racing will take place when the series returns for the November 13 Kobalt Tools 500. 

The rule of thumb when most tracks are repaved is that more often than not one groove racing is the result in the early going. Until seasoning, weathering and more racing rubber can be laid down, freshly paved speedways don’t usually produce side-by-side action. 

Jeff Gordon has competed on dozens of repaved tracks over the course of his career and expects Phoenix to follow the same pattern he’s experienced in most cases. 

But he stresses the two days spent in Phoenix this week were under testing conditions and not in full fledged racing mentality

“When we come here to these tests, we're all trying to learn things, get laps, do our own thing,” Gordon said. “We're not racing. We're not getting side by side with other cars.

“So naturally you're just going to see one groove built in there. It is a very narrow groove right now. I hopped outside of it on more than one occasion today, and it was exciting to say the least.” 

Track management as well as NASCAR officials point out the new design was created with the hope of improving competition. While early on there may be some growing pains, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton believes the track will provide drivers the opportunity to race and not just follow. 

“There was a lot of effort put into the engineering, the variable banking here,” Pemberton said.  “So over time the grooves should widen out and there will be more lanes to race with.  That's what all the simulation work has shown.  We believe that that will be true moving forward.” 

However how fast that happens is very much a moving target. After this week’s test session, only a few days of cars from the track’s driving school turning laps will take place until the NASCAR circus comes back to town the third week of November. 

Some see the lack of laps being run at the track before the November race creating a potential problem on the horizon.

“I don’t know what it’s going to do for the racing yet,” said David Reutimann. “There hasn’t been enough rubber or laps put on the racetrack to really know what it’s going to be, but right now it’s not very good. Not very good at all, but it’s a new racetrack and we’re hoping once it get some rubber on it and we all get to work on our cars a bit it’ll continue to get better.” 

Carl Edwards is among those who predict the new layout will definitely cause issues 

“There are some opportunities here for some problems that we haven’t seen at this race track,” said Edwards. “Double-file restarts with 20 to go here, second race from the end of the Chase, there’s no telling what is going to happen. That’s not necessarily good for the racers. It’s good for the fans. But it’s going to be a little stressful.” 

And to make that stress level even higher is the matter of the championship, which will very much be on the line five weeks from now. 

The potential of having a significantly large number of drivers still in the title hunt on the Phoenix weekend is a very good possibility given the competitive nature of how this year’s playoffs have begun. 

Now thrown into the mix is the unknown of racing at what is for all intents and purposes a new track. 

"As far as the Chase guys go and determining a championship – I guess we'll find out when we get here,” said Reutimann, who is not in this year’s playoff race hut still looking to end his year with a series of good finishes as well as a win.  “We all have to race on the same race track, and no one has an advantage or disadvantage on a new race track.” 

Edwards has a bit more of a pessimistic outlook and is very much concerned how the curveball of the new Phoenix will impact his quest for a first Sprint Cup title. 

In Edwards’ mind, the mysterious nature of not knowing what to expect makes the Phoenix stop perhaps the most important in determining the championship picture. 

“Whenever you introduce something new like this new surface and new track layout, there are going to be guys that figure it out quickly and there are going to be guys that struggle, and it’s not necessarily the guys you would expect,” Edwards said.

“This race, I think we’re all going to come here with a little bit of nervousness, a little trepidation of do we have the right setup? As a driver, I have to ask myself if I am driving the right way around this racetrack. The way the surface is, it’s unforgiving so there could be some accidents and some things happen that we don’t usually see.”

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Posted on: September 15, 2011 8:41 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 8:50 pm

Jeff Gordon brings momentum to Chase opener

By Pete Pistone

(Gordon has his sights set on Sprint Cup Series championship number five this season)

CHICAGO - Jeff Gordon brings a great deal of momentum into Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway and a quest for his fifth career title. 

The Hendrick Motorsports driver ended the regular season with three wins and has enjoyed resurgence since being paired with new crew chief Alan Gustafson. 

After his third place finish in last Saturday night’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon is confident he can carry that success into the ten race run for the title. 

“Yeah, I'm really excited about our race team right now,” Gordon said after Saturday’s Richmond race.  “I look back at our season, all the changes that were made with basically me going to a whole different team and getting to know these guys, getting an opportunity to work with them and learning how to communicate and how to get more competitive week in and week out. 

“We had some great things happening at the beginning.  We won the Phoenix race, but we struggled, as well, and we were way back in points at one time, 16th, 17th in points.  To come all the way back up to -- I don't know where we ended, probably 6th in the regular season with Harvick winning the race today, but to win three races, to run the way we have and just gain the momentum, have a shot at winning that race tonight, man, this team could not be more pumped and excited about getting this Chase started next week, and Chicago is a great track for us.” 

Gordon’s enthusiasm for Chicagoland is due in no small part to his success at the 1.5-mile track. 

In ten starts, Gordon has one win (2006), one pole (2004), six top-five finishes and seven top-10s. But this year marks the first time the track has hosted a Chase event let alone the opening race of the championship portion of the schedule. 

“I’m excited about starting the Chase in Chicago this year,” Gordon said. “This week, the Chase drivers are spread out all around the country going to different places to promote the Chase before we end up in Chicago for additional media opportunities. Then it’s off to the track. 

“It’s a great track. It reminds me a lot of Kansas, and we ran really well there earlier this year. I’m excited about our chances at Chicago. The plan is to start off the Chase on a positive note.”

That positive attitude along with confidence in his team and ability behind the wheel as well as the momentum Gordon has built in the last few weeks all adds up to what the four-time champion hopes will be another memorable season.

“I haven’t felt like this in a long time, and I love the position we are in as a team,” Gordon said. “We led the most laps at Bristol, and we led the most laps and won at Atlanta. We definitely have momentum on our side. “I don’t feel that anybody has shown more strength than we have in the past ten races.

“We have some confidence right now, but we also know it’s going to be tough during the Chase.  We have to step up our game and we know there are a few tracks we have to improve at. If we can do that, we have a great shot this year.”

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Posted on: September 15, 2011 6:54 pm

RCR responds to allegations of team orders

By Pete Pistone

CHICAGO - Several drivers and teams questioned last week’s late race spin by Paul Menard at Richmond International Raceway that led to a caution flag eventually benefitting Richard Childresss Racing teammate and eventual race winner Kevin Harvick. 

Menard’s spin with 16 laps remaining put the race under caution with Jeff Gordon leading and Harvick second. But on what turned out to be the night’s final round of pit stops, Harvick beat Gordon off pit road and was able to maintain the top spot the rest of the way to the checkered flag. 

The incident has brought to light the possibility of multi-car operations giving “team orders” at certain points of an event to assist drivers inside the organization and Gordon believes Saturday may be an example. 

“If any of that is true of what's being speculated right now, all I have can say is I've lost a lot of respect for Paul Menard,’’ Gordon said at Thursday’s Chase Media Day event in Chicago. “… might have just lost it off of turn four and caution came out. But when you listen to the radio, and I've had other people translate it to me, it sounds a little fishy.’’ 

When informed of Gordon’s view, Harvick responded by pointing his finger at Hendrick Motorsports. 

“There’s 10 times during the race that you could say that the Hendrick cars were spinning people out or doing what they had to do to keep Dale Jr. on the lead lap,’’ Harvick said, referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s multitude of issues and trips to pit road during the Richmond race. “ You could make the same allegations throughout the whole race that they were trying to help him do the same thing, stay in the lead lap and get in the Chase.” 

Gordon says those allegations are false and that the Hendrick group does not operate in that manner. 

“We're not known for team orders, and primarily where it helps in deciding races,’’ Gordon said. “We'll do everything in our power to make our cars better, perform at a high level and be competitive and win races and championships, but there's never been team orders.

“If I am a teammate, to someone that's going for the championship, I would make it a little more challenging for if it comes down for the championship, to a certain degree. I am always one that says let the race be decided the way it needs to be decided. If I treat somebody that way, then I expect in the opposite situation, they would treat me in the same way. So I always try to race people the way I want them to race me and if the championship is going to get decided based on whether I held someone up, would I do it? You know, to a certain degree, yes.”

NASCAR has not launched any investigation into the incident at Richmond.

"We haven't seen or heard anything that would indicate the No. 27 did anything inappropriate in Richmond," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We watch closely the activity in each event all season long to maintain a fair and even event for all competitors. We naturally will do the same for the balance of the season."  

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Posted on: September 15, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 6:07 pm

NASCAR hopes Chicago Chase opener succeeds

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Will starting the Chase in Chicago bring NASCAR the exposure and attention it hopes?)

CHICAGO – For the first time in its eight-year history the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup opens in Chicago. 

Now the question is will anyone notice? 

The 12 drivers battling in this year’s championship season gathered in downtown Chicago Thursday afternoon on the eve of the Chase opening weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Sunday’s Geico 400 at the track located about 60 miles southwest of Lake Michigan in Joliet, Illinois, is the 11th appearance by NASCAR’s top series but the first as the opening round of the Chase. 

NASCAR had hopes to breath some life into its playoffs by kicking off the run at the country’s number three market but in the process put itself against some pretty stiff competition for attention. 

The Chicago sports landscape is always a busy one with the Cubs, White Sox, Bull, Blackhawks and Bears to go along with a healthy collegiate scene as well as a rabid high school arena. 

But in addition to going head-to-head with all that, particularly the Bears who after only a 1-0 start to the season have already dominated Chicago sports media 24/7, the PGA tour is also in town this weekend with the BMW Classic at Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, only a three wood from the backstretch at Chicagoland Speedway. 

It’s a crowded picture to be sure and one that is going to make it difficult for NASCAR to break through – even with the championship season about to begin.

But track management believes it can make a difference and create an event that will keep the Windy City as the Chase opener for years to come. 

"We need to demonstrate that this market embraces NASCAR and Sprint Cup racing," newly appointed Chicagoland President Scott Paddock said. "We don't have the rich history of a Daytona or a Talladega or a lot of these other race markets, but we saw in years past that there's an avid NASCAR fan base in this town." 

Last year’s race held during the track’s until this season traditional July weekend drew a poor crowd nearly 20,000 short of capacity. The good news is ticket sales for Sunday’s race are pacing well ahead of that mark and there’s a good chance the Geico 400 will be as sell out. 

That according to Paddock will go a long way into establishing the race as a must see event for local sports fans. 

“You don’t see many empty seats at a Bears, Cubs, Bulls, Hawks or Sox game on a regular basis,” Paddock said. “That’s a Chicago tradition in this town in terms of local team support and what we’re striving for at Chicagoland Speedway.” 

NASCAR is on board and plans to open next year’s Chase back at Chicagoland hoping to generate more publicity and exposure for the sport as the event becomes entrenched on the local calendar. 

“At the end of the day, we think Chicagoland Speedway being the first race of the chase is a tremendous opportunity for the sport and the fans in the Midwest,” Said NASCAR vice president of operations Steve O’Donnell said. “It’s a fast track that’ll give us more diversity in the Chase. We’re excited about working with the staff at Chicagoland.” 

For the most part the drivers see the benefit of beginning the Chase in a city the size of Chicago and putting the NASCAR product in front of as many people as possible. 

“It’s a world class city and I believe we’re a world class sport,” said Carl Edwards. “We should absolutely look for ways to make more people aware of NASCAR racing and what better time to do that when the championship is on the line? I think kicking off the Chase here is very cool.”

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon agrees the opportunities to bring more attention to NASCAR competing in a city like Chicago was worth the effort to change the Chase schedule around

“I’m excited about starting the Chase in Chicago this year,” Gordon said. “This week, the Chase drivers are spread out all around the country going to different places to promote the Chase before we end up in Chicago for additional media opportunities.

“There are a lot of race fans in this area of the country and we need to take every opportunity we can to bring NASCAR to more fans and grow as much as we can.”

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Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:41 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 5:39 pm

Chase for the Cup predictions

Should Jimmie Johnson start making room for a sixth championship trophy? (US Presswire)

CBSSports.com NASCAR reporter Pete Pistone and NASCAR producer Brian De Los Santos take their best guess as to how the final Chase standings will shake out.

Pete Pistone
After a regular season that produced 15 different winners including five drivers taking their first-career Sprint Cup Series checkered flags, NASCAR is ready for the 2011 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

This year's 12-driver field accounted for 21 wins in the season's first 26 races and includes five former series champions.

Jimmie Johnson is set to take aim at an unprecedented sixth straight championship, but in a season that has produced as much unpredictability as this one has, the Hendrick Motorsports driver could be ripe for finally being unseated. Johnson only has one win to his credit entering the playoff run, the fewest of any of his previous seven Chase appearances, providing some of his competitors with a glimmer of hope the dominance may be fading.

It starts at Chicagoland Speedway and wraps up with Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so let the Chase begin:

1. Jimmie Johnson: It's good to be the king, and for anyone else to ascend to the throne they have to rise up and take the crown. There hasn't been a driver able to do that in the last five seasons and it won't happen this year either. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus know how to play the Chase game better than anyone. They put together a solid if not dominating regular season that may have been down on victories from previous years, but was not short on the key factor in winning NASCAR titles -- consistency. His feud with Kurt Busch may make this one a little more interesting, but at the end of the 10-week Chase, the story will be a six-pack for Johnson.

2. Jeff Gordon: The resurgence of Gordon this season has been one of the year's pleasant surprises. While great attention was given to team owner Rick Hendrick's decision to pair Steve Letarte with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the organization's massive realignment at the end of last season, Gordon and new head wrench Alan Gustafson have been remarkable. After winning the second race of the year at Phoenix, Gordon did cool off during the middle stretch of the schedule. After dropping as far back as 17th in the standings, he roared back and may have the most momentum of any driver heading into the Chase.

3. Kevin Harvick: He came down to the wire last season and just short of ending Johnson's title run. So Harvick feels there's some unfinished business to take care of in 2011. He was very strong in the opening segment of the season, rattling off three wins in short order by pouncing on late opportunities. But there were some stumbles in the regular season and Harvick endured a summer of some discontent especially with his pit crew's performance. Things seem to have been righted and the No. 29 team is a cohesive bunch once again. RCR having only one car in the Chase may also prove to be beneficial to Harvick's effort with the organizations complete resources at his disposal.

4. Kyle Busch: The No. 1 seed in the Chase by virtue of his four wins and place in the point standings, Busch has his best shot ever to win a Sprint Cup championship. His biggest hurdle will again be himself and overcoming the emotion that still gets the best of him at times. However, while there have been outbursts in his Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series efforts, Busch has been relatively quiet in that department on the Cup side. The nagging issues of Joe Gibbs Racing's engine department are another challenge Busch will need to conquer, but there's no reason to believe he won't be right in the thick of the championship hunt.

5. Carl Edwards: The preseason pick by many (including me) to win the title, Edwards has had a strange year that was overshadowed by his contract situation with Roush Fenway Racing and his future career plans. Now that he has settled into a long-term deal at RFR, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne have no outside distractions and obstacles to get in the way of a full assault on the crown. Edwards has been very good in the weeks leading up to the Chase including a solid second-place outing at the regular-season finale in Richmond and will look to ride that momentum to a hot start in the playoffs.

6. Matt Kenseth: The quintessential sleeper is back in the Chase and has put together a typically consistent year to punch his ticket to the playoffs. Kenseth's 14 top-10 finishes, seven top 5's and two victories were one of his strongest regular-season performances in recent years. He'll have to get past a few tracks inside the Chase -- such as Martinsville -- that have been challenges during his Cup career to make a serious charge for a second title.

7. Kurt Busch: Busch was the only driver to stay inside the top 10 of the point standings all through the regular season. But the bad news is he fell from the lead to eighth place after enduring a summer stretch filled with struggles, bad luck and high emotion that helped rekindle a feud with Jimmie Johnson. Busch ended the regular campaign with a pair of good runs in Atlanta and Richmond but the question of his ability to keep emotions in check while also dealing with the Johnson rivalry put the Penske Racing driver's championship hopes seriously in doubt.

8. Brad Keselowski: The other Penske driver comes into his first Chase as a bona fide underdog but one many feel can pull off the impossible and make a serious challenge for the title. Keselowski's performance since early June has been nothing short of spectacular and there may not be another team in the garage area that has as much confidence or believes in its driver more than the Blue Deuce bunch. Keselowski won over a lot of fans in the last three months and is looking to prove a lot of his previous detractors wrong.

9. Tony Stewart: Not the season Stewart had hoped for by any means, but the two-time champion was still good enough when it counted to make it back to the Chase. Things appeared to be headed back in the right direction as the regular season came to a close, but Stewart's team doesn't have the look of a championship contender and won't be a serious challenger unless it can eliminate the roller coaster ride results that have dominated the 2011 season.

10. Denny Hamlin: He pushed Johnson to the brink of the championship last season but has suffered through a disappointing follow-up season punctuated by engine problems and other issues that forced Hamlin to use a wild card spot to make it back to the Chase. The switch to TRD engines should be a plus for Hamlin, but a return to the form he displayed last year-- a combo platter of consistency and winning -- in short order is imperative for the JGR No. 11 team to have any shot at somehow challenging for the title.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt's somewhat surprising start to the year began to fade away as the season wore on and by the end of the regular campaign he was barely hanging on to a spot in the Chase. He made it after a very nervous night in Richmond and perhaps the fresh start will be what the Hendrick Motorsports driver needs. Crew chief Steve Letarte promised to change his conservative approach of just trying to make the Chase to a winning formula once the playoffs began so it will be interesting to see if there is any difference in the team's strategy over the next 10 races. Of any one of the dozen Chasers, Earnhardt needs to get off to a good start and not dig himself into a hole.

12. Ryan Newman: The other half of the Stewart-Haas Racing duo made the Chase for the fourth time in his career and put together a nice and consistent regular season. However despite his one win and 13 top 10 finishes, Newman had only a pair of consecutive top fives in the season's first 26 races. He's not particularly strong on 1.5-mile tracks, and with the likes of Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead on the Chase schedule, it doesn't bode well for the driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet.

Brian De Los Santos
Ho hum, I'm picking Jimmie Johnson to win it all. I gave up picking against Johnson a couple of years ago. It's a lesson in futility.

What GOOD reason is there to pick against him? If you're counting on the law of averages, that law clearly doesn't apply to the 48 team.

Except for Chicagoland, the Chase tracks are the same as they ever were. The same tracks he has shown time and time again the ability to dominate. And, quite frankly, he's not too shabby at Chicagoland, with seven top 10s in nine visits.

It's inevitable that he's going to fall short one of these years (isn't it?). He's not going to win titles until the day he retires (will he?). It's just not possible (is it?). But with five straight titles and another strong regular season in the books, I don't see how I can predict that Johnson's rein is over.

1. Jimmie Johnson: What indication has the 48 team given that they won't be competitive during the Chase? Sure he has just one win, but he did finish second in the final regular-season points. As we've learned over the past five years, Johnson and the 48 team are built for the Chase. The only thing I could see spoiling the party is if Kurt Busch makes it his purpose to keep Johnson from capturing a sixth straight title by any means necessary. However, Busch did say they've worked it out and will cool the antics during the Chase. I'm not quite buying it.

2. Jeff Gordon: In terms of wins, he's already having his best season since winning six times in 2007. The 24 team appears to be on top of their game heading into the Chase, with three consecutive top fives and six finishes of sixth or better in the past seven races.

3. Carl Edwards: He looks primed for a run at the title. With 10 races to go, he already has third most top fives (12) for a season in his career. He takes three straight top 10s and two consecutive top fives into the Chase.

4. Matt Kenseth: It's so easy to undervalue Kenseth. You'd hardly know that he won twice and finished sixth in the final regular-season standings. He's not flashy. He doesn't have a personality that screams for attention. His strength is consistency. The two tracks he won at were Dover and Texas, both of which will be revisited down the stretch.

5. Brad Keselowski: He has come a long way. He was 25th in the standings at the end of May, and over the course of the second half of the season he staged a furious rally, just missing out on finishing the regular season in the top 10. He was especially hot over the past two months, pulling out two wins, four top fives and six top 10s the past seven races. I don't think it was a fluke and expect him to remain competitive throughout the final 10 races.

6. Kyle Busch: This isn't the first time Busch has been a regular-season wonder boy, but for all his talent, he's never been able to carry it out through the Chase, with his best points finish (5th) coming in 2007. This very well could be the year he puts it together, but I just have this feeling that at the first sign of trouble the downward spiral will begin.

7. Kevin Harvick: I don't know what to make of Harvick. He's tied for the season lead with four wins, including a dominant effort in the regular-season finale at Richmond, but his 13 top 10s ranks seventh. For much of the summer the 29 car was a non-factor. In fact, Richmond was the first race he had even led a lap in since Daytona at the beginning of July, a span of nine races. The win was one of only two top five finishes Harvick had in the last 13 races.

8. Kurt Busch: It has been a wildly inconsistent season for the No. 2 team and Busch has flown off the handle a number of times. Like his brother Kyle, the question is whether he can keep his cool in times of distress. He has run well the past couple of weeks with back-to-back top fives, but that comes off the heels of three straight finish of 17th or worse.

9. Ryan Newman: Did you know Newman has the fifth-most top fives (8) this season? That's more than Harvick, Kenseth or Kurt Busch. He's also one of only two Chase drivers -- Edwards is the other -- without a DNF. Still, his avg. finish of 13.1 is just eighth best.

10. Tony Stewart: I thought this season might be somewhat of a struggle for the 14 team, and despite the Chase berth, it has been. He's without a win and has just three top fives (his career low is nine) and 11 top 10s (his career low is 16). If there's any good news, it's that he does have three top 10s in the past four races. Maybe the team is putting things together at the right time.

11. Denny Hamlin: Prior to the season, if there was one driver people thought might unseat Johnson as champion this season, it was Hamlin. But he hasn't come close to living up to expectations, needing a wild-card to make the Chase. There's been signs of life in recent weeks with three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He hung on to a Chase berth by the skin of his teeth. The first half of the season saw Earnhardt in position to challenge for the points lead with seven top 10 finishes. But over the past 13 races he has managed just two top 10s. Maybe the team was just trying to play it safe to ensure a Chase berth, but even if they were holding back a bit, I don't see him as a championship contender.

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Posted on: September 9, 2011 3:32 pm

Jeff Gordon tops opening Richmond practice

By Pete Pistone

Jeff Gordon followed his Atlanta victory on Tuesday by leading Friday's first Sprint Cup Series practice session at Richmond International Raceway.

Gordon led the way as teams began preparation for Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachios 400 race at the .75-milr track with Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Clint Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger rounding out the Top 5.

Teams will practice again later Friday afternoon before qualifying to set the 43-car field for tomorrow's race.


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Posted on: September 6, 2011 11:56 pm

Chase clinch scenarios for Richmond

With only one race remaining until the 12-driver lineup for Chase is set, nine drivers have clinched their bids -- Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski.

Here are the clinch scenarios for the final three Chase spots.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt is currently 25 points ahead of 11th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, Earnhardt will clinch if he finishes:
-- 20th or better
-- 21st or better and leads at least one lap
-- 22nd or better and leads the most laps
Tony Stewart
Stewart is currently 23 points ahead of 11th place. Regardless of any other driver’s finish, Stewart will clinch if he finishes:
-- 18th or better
-- 19th or better and leads at least one lap
-- 20th or better and leads the most laps
A number of different finishes affect the wild card:
Denny Hamlin

-- With a victory, Hamlin will earn at least a wild card spot. He can still mathematically finish top 10 in points.

Paul Menard

-- With a victory, Menard would earn a wild card spot.

Marcos Ambrose and David Ragan

-- With a victory AND entry into the top 20, Ambrose or Ragan would earn a wild-card spot. Both drivers are currently outside the top 20. Ambrose is seven points outside the top 20; Ragan is 20 points outside the top 20.
All drivers through 23rd place in the series standings remain eligible for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Aside from the scenarios listed above, those without an already-clinched Chase spot need a win, a top 20 spot and various finishes from other drivers to earn a Chase spot.

Source: NASCAR

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