The Hottest Storylines in NASCAR for the Week of September 30
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With the 2013 NASCAR season drawing to a close, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is closing in on the halfway point while Nationwide Series sees Sam Hornish Jr. try to hang on to his point lead for the last five races on the schedule.
Both series have made their last stop at the Monster Mile for the season, and we have a slew of stories leading us into Kansas. The No. 22 Penske Racing Ford has won a season-high 11 times. Will Kansas see another No. 22 Ford victory?
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson nabbed his fifth win of the season and his eighth Dover win overall. Now that he's broken the dominant streak that Joe Gibbs Racing has had in the Chase, can he surpass them at Kansas?
All that, including the Nationwide Championship race and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak make up for the hottest stories in NASCAR this week.
Penske Racing's Nationwide Effort
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The 2013 Nationwide Series season has been a dream season for Penske Racing. Success has come for both of their Nationwide entries, the No. 22 Ford Mustang that has been piloted by several drivers including 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger and Joey Logano, and the No. 12 that is piloted by three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish, the current Nationwide points leader, is looking to try to regain the ground he lost on second-place Austin Dillon after a disastrous showing at Dover Saturday. With five races, left he now holds a four-point lead over Dillon. However, Hornish has had stellar runs on the mile-and-a-half speedways this year, including a win at Las Vegas earlier this year, so he should do well at Kansas.
Meanwhile, the No. 22 will be looking for win No. 12 this season, as Keselowski, Blaney, Allmendinger and Logano have all won in the car this season, including a season sweep of Dover by Logano, who won his fourth straight Dover event. The Jeremy Bullins-led crew has put the No. 22 on top of the owner's championship standings, and they are well on pace to win multiple times in the next five races.
Carl Edwards Drops from Fourth to 11th in the Chase
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Coming into this race, Carl Edwards sat fourth in points knowing that the slightest slip from the guys in front of him could put him in a chance to gain ground on the point lead. He's been having a good year and his team has brought their A-game this season, so it really seemed like a likelihood considering the results he has posted here.
Instead, it was Edwards who had the slip-up.
Prior to a broken hub that sidelined him and dropped him to 11th in the Chase standings, he was already having a bad day. By lap 362 he was a lap down. The car was handling horribly, and the broken hub only served to put the Ford out of its misery.
History has shown us that one mulligan won't hurt a driver's title hopes too badly and, considering we've got seven races left in the season, Edwards has time to get back in the hunt, but it won't be easy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Winless Streak
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Junior Nation was once again disappointed when a valiant effort by Dale Earnhardt Jr. was once again thwarted by Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson. It was a good points-day, nonetheless, for Junior, who won the pole on Friday and finished second on Sunday, but his legacy should be more than consistent finishes. This team needs victories.
Next Sunday sees the Sprint Cup Series heading to America's Heartland for the fourth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Kansas Speedway. Junior hasn't done terribly well at Kansas, with only one top-five and six top-10s at the track. But he did finish second there in 2011, and has finished off the lead lap there only four times in 14 starts.
Junior was able to produce a strong run at Dover on Sunday, a track where he hasn't run all that well in the past. Perhaps the No. 88 team can make something happen for Junior on Sunday to boost his Chase hopes.
Matt Kenseth Maintains Chase Lead
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With a solid seventh-place finish on Sunday after starting second, Matt Kenseth was able to maintain his point lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson, who won at Dover for his fifth win of 2013. Dover looked to be one of Kenseth's biggest threats to his Chase lead because, although he has won there twice, he finished 40th there earlier this year thanks to a blown engine.
His No. 20 Toyota faded over the course of the race despite leading 36 laps. On the last pit stop, a snag on the right rear turned what was to be a four-tire stop into a two-tire stop. An issue like that could derail his attempt to win at Kansas for the third time in a row, so they need to be flawless. Anything less could result in the loss of the point lead.
Jimmie Johnson Returns to Championship Form
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As Halloween nears, drivers are already cringing as the ultimate monster has been awakened, and he is hungry.
"Five-Time" is back.
Having opened the Chase with three consecutive top-fives, including his record-setting eighth Dover win, Johnson is now right on Matt Kenseth's tail like a serial killer coming up the stairs in a bad horror movie. Having surpassed Kyle Busch for second in points, Johnson sits eight points back as the series heads to Kansas, where both drivers have had success.
Kenseth has won the last two races at Kansas, so he holds an edge over Johnson, who last won there in 2011. But Johnson isn't finished yet. He has a psychological advantage over the competition and, if he can get inside Kenseth's head, it will be game over for the No. 20, like the jock in a Michael Myers slasher film.
It's going to get pretty hairy this coming Sunday.
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