With the final off week of the season coming up, the teams head to Bristol with a lot on the line. whether it is points, Chase aspirations, or rides. Bristol plays a pivotal role for many drivers, but surviving was key.
Check out this week’s winners and losers.
For Kyle Busch, Bristol is becoming his house and with good reason he leads many if not all the statistical categories at this track, so it’s not a big surprise to see him running within the top 10 for most of the day and then to win was also not so surprising.
Busch who qualified 15th for the race quickly moved forward. Busch found himself battling for a spot in the top five. He was battling some of the same issues that everyone else was fighting a very tight race car.
Busch early had a good car on restarts but would fall off a bit as the run went on. His team had great pit stops and was able to adjust on the car. Busch took the lead late from Michael Waltrip.
With multiple late cautions, Busch had to hold off a hard-charging Mark Martin for the win.
Busch who came into the race sitting 15th in the standings, couldn’t afford to have a bad run or a poor finish. With so much on the line, the team rallied behind Busch and earned this finish.
Heading into Atlanta in two weeks, Busch is hoping to find the same success he had last year at the track and to continue his gain on the standings. Busch needs to finish in the top 10 on Sunday night if he wants to have a shot come Richmond.
Busch needs Bristol to be added to the race more than twice a year, it’s his house.
Now I usually put the second-place driver in this position but I had to give this one to Marcos Ambrose. This rookie driver in the Sprint Cup series is having a great year.
Even without a win, Ambrose is proving each week that he not only belongs in this series, he will be factor each week.
Ambrose started in 25th but quickly moved forward. He was in the top 10 and battling for positions in the top 10 by lap 179.
Ambrose would lose a few spots on pit road, but he was able to gain them back with a great car that allowed him to get better as the run went on.
Ambrose would finish third Saturday night. Ambrose, who shows humility even when he has poor finishes, was probably happier tonight than winner Busch.
Ambrose insists he is still trying to earn the respect of the drivers who have been racing in this series for so long. I think he did that a long time ago.
It’s a good sign for NASCAR when a single-car team can run with the big boys, even though they have technical support from the Michael Waltrip Racing.
Ambrose is to Stewart as Michael Waltrip Racing is to Hendrick Motorsports. (They said I didn’t pay attention in class).
Once again there were probably a few other drivers who could have landed in this spot, but Jamie McMurray had a solid run and for a guy driving for a ride next year, he showed tonight that when they hit on the setup he can run competitively.
McMurray started 17th on Sunday but found his way into the top ten by lap 195. They fell behind a bit on an adjustment but were able to keep position and with solid pit stops and a good car they finished 11th.
McMurray has a lot more on the line than most drivers and with the races winding down and not many rides available, finishes like this will only help him when it comes down to signing a contract.
McMurray has run better than his teammate David Ragan, but it’s Ragan with the ride at Roush Fenway Racing 2010.
McMurray is an example of a driver with the talent but poor luck and tough economy has this driver looking for work.
If Busch had the best points night of any driver, Bowyer had the worst. Before the race Clint Bowyer could do nothing but praise BMS and the great racing.
He was then reminded how close he was to making the Chase and how important it was for him to finish strong.
Well it looked good early and he nearly walked away not only with a good finish but a top 10 finish.
Bowyer had been running very well, he was battling some handling conditions but they were able to maintain track position.
On lap 438, contact between Sam Hornish Jr., Casey Mears and Kurt Busch set off a chain reaction involving Bowyer.
Bowyer had some damage but was on pit road multiple times to repair it and was able to stay on the lead lap. With only a handful of laps left, a cut tire for Michael Waltrip sent him into the wall and into Bowyer.
With those two hits, Bowyer saw his Chase chances all but slip away. Bowyer didn’t need another race like this, he has had too many this year and that’s why he fighting to get into the Chase.
Looks more and more like Richard Childress Racing's only hope to make the Chase won’t be crashing the party.
Tony Stewart has nothing to lose, he is already locked into the Chase, and all he has to do is race for wins. Well on Saturday it would have helped if he would have been able to race communicate in the first place.
Stewart couldn’t hear nor could he talk back to his team. They were forced down pit road to change radios and in the process lost a lap when they barely made the restart coming off of pit road.
Four radio changes later and losing multiple laps to the leaders, it all came down to something so simple.
Stewart had switched frequencies to wish teammate Ryan Newman good luck and was never able to get back to the correct frequency with his team.
They figured this out after all the swap outs of helmets. To make matters, worse an electrical issue relegated him to 11 laps off the pace.
Stewart finished 33rd. Stewart hasn’t had many races this year where they completely missed the setup. Even after the radio issues were solved they struggled to keep up with the car.
Stewart could afford a race like this but let’s hope this mini slump ends by the Chase.
For the first time in 2009, Stewart had to consecutive finishes outside the top 10.
One year ago, Carl Edwards was celebrating in victory lane and was on his way to a series leading nine victories. A year later, Edwards has zero victories and at a track where Edwards has found so much success, he wasn’t even a factor.
Edwards’s day didn’t start out very well; he was way back in traffic in 32nd. At a short track, poor track position can kill your day before a poor handling car does. Edwards, though, was struggling with a poor handling race car and he went a lap down early.
His team was never able to find the handling on this car and instead of battling for the lead, he was battling to stay on the lead lap: a battle he lost. From then on, they were trying for the free pass just to get a decent finish.
On lap 438, he got the free pass he finished 16th.
For Edwards Saturday night was a snapshot of his season, either he has a good car and bad luck or bad car that they can’t adjust on.
Edwards might be a lock for the Chase, but he doesn’t look like a contender with runs like this.
Lucky Dog: Denny Hamlin
For Denny Hamlin the night did not start out very well, on lap 64 he cut a tire and had to come down to pit road and make repairs.
He was a lap down until Bobby Labonte spun and hit the wall that was lap 163.
Hamlin restarted 29th and started moving forward immediately. By lap 250 he was in 13th and by lap 361 he was in the top five. He had a great comeback tonight.
His tire issues were early enough that he was able to continue to work on the car and benefit from cautions early. Hamlin finished fifth after starting 41st.
Hamlin had the best car out there after he went sideways in qualifying and had a flat tire in the first 100 laps, and then he was one of the best cars out there.
Congrats to Bristol Motor Speedway, and all the folks who worked hard to earn the 55th consecutive sellout. In this economy, not many tracks can claim a sell out so far in 2009 and not surprisingly Bristol sold out.
BMS had the fans into the driver-picked songs for their intros, reverting back to old school racing with the drivers addressing the crowd before their parade laps around the track. This weekend was packed with racing, and BMS put on a show.
From Wednesday to the checkered flag, every track should look to Bristol not only for how the drivers are involved, but the fan involvement.
Before the checkered flag, the fans did a karaoke to Garth Brooks, during the red flag late in the race, an impromptu wave began.
There is a reason why Bristol sells out and is such a coveted ticket and I wouldn’t be surprised if next spring we are talking about another sell out.
With an off weekend for the Sprint Cup teams, drivers are getting ready for the final push for the Chase. With so many agendas going into the Atlanta race, we will see some drivers being conservative and others going for the win.
Enjoy the off week and see you in Atlanta for a Sunday night special under the lights.