Whitesburg KY

Chase taking on team feel

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has only had three checkered flags out of its 10- race schedule, but that has been enough to give this year’s title hunt somewhat of a team feel. The first two races saw Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch finish one-two and this past week at Dover Hendrick Motorsports showed why it has 10 championship trophies in its trophy case.

Hendrick’s Jimmie Johnson once again reminded us that he is a five-time Chase champion and that he knows that to become a player in the title hunt you have to win races. His latest Chase trip to victory lane moved him up one spot in the standings past Kyle Busch into second, only eight points behind Kenseth.

Just as important for Johnson were the finishes that his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were able to post at Dover. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had gotten off to a rough start in the Chase, followed Johnson across the finish line in second and teammate Jeff Gordon finished fourth. The three top-five Hendrick finishes came at just the right time as Gibbs had been the talk of the Chase with their early domination.

Kenseth posted a seventhplace finish and Busch was able to come home in fifth, but both drivers lost points on the day to Johnson and it shows that in order to win the title just finishing in the top five may not be good enough. When an organization like Hendrick can post three topfive finishes it gives little room for another organization to post the kind of finishes that are needed to maintain the lead in the points.

The Chase standings are already starting to shake out as a three-driver competition between Kenseth, Busch and Johnson. Kenseth has been in the lead since the Chase started with teammate Busch in second until this week. Busch now sits in third, 12 points out of first, and trails Johnson by four points. Another way to look at it is that it is shaping up as a battle between the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs and the Hendrick Chevrolets.

While it may be a three-driver competition at this time, there are three other drivers that could still make a run over the next seven weekends. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are 39 points behind the leader and Greg Biffle is 41 points back, but to make up that kind of deficit they are going to have to find victory lane and find it several times while the leaders encounter some problems.

TRACK SMACK: Next stop on the Chase will be Kansas Speedway. It is one of the newer tracks on the entire Sprint Cup schedule but it still has played host to 15 Cup races. All of the notes with the exception of the ones collected by crew chiefs over the last two races will be of little use as the track underwent a repaving before last year’s Chase race. It is now one of the fastest tracks on the schedule as the qualifying speeds since the repaving have been over 190 miles per hour. It may be easy to pick a favorite for this weekend’s race as Matt Kenseth has won both races since the repave. His wins are more of a reflection of his skill level at the track than the car make as he has won a race in both a Ford while he was with Jack Roush Racing and has posted a win in one of Gibbs’s Toyotas. Adding yet another wrinkle to this race will be the tire that Goodyear will be bringing. Goodyear will be using what it calls the Multi-Zone 2.0 that has only been used once before this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The tire features two distinct tire tread compounds that will not only give the tire good grip but also provide better endurance. That is the kind of combination that may make a crew chief comfortable enough to call for only two tire stops to allow his driver to pick up some track position during a critical time of the race.

STEWART UPDATE: Tony Stewart began rehab on his broken leg that he suffered Aug. 5 this past week and told reporters that he will not be back in a car this year. His target date is likely to be the end of January or February in time of Daytona’s Speedweeks.

Race Preview

Event: Hollywood Casino 400

Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5- mile D-shaped oval, 170-200 variable banking in the turns)

Date: Oct. 6, 2 pm


Radio: MRN

Defending Champion: Matt Kenseth

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