Parks Race Reactions: Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway

Dustin ParksAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2017

Apparently it wasn't Dorothy who saw a twister in Kansas. Sunday afternoon, the Kansas Speedway added a little twist into the Chase for the Championship.

For this week's edition of "Parks Race Reactions," I'm going to look at the big winners in Sunday's race, along with some of the disappointments.

Right out of the gate, I'm giving a lot of credit to Darian Grubb for his call on the final pit stop. Opting to go with just right-side tires while some of the leaders went with four was a big risk. But, as was seen early in the race, taking two tires can work, and Tony Stewart took advantage.

It also helped that Stewart got a great jump on the final restart, getting ahead of Greg Biffle and letting the field sort it out behind him. That allowed him to stretch his lead out and get a big enough gap to make him hard to catch.

The regular season points leader now moves up to fourth in the Chase, 67 points out of the lead. "Smoke" can smell the lead and an unprecedented championship in his first year as an owner/driver. The No. 14 team is coming, and coming strong.

I've also got to give big kudos to the No. 24 and Jeff Gordon. All weekend the DuPont Chevrolet was a difficult car for Gordon to handle. At one point the car was so bad, Gordon keyed the radio saying to crew chief Steve Letarte "If you can fix this car, you'll be my hero."

Well, it may not have been perfect, but what the car was in the closing laps was fast. Gordon was closing, and closing at a fast pace. Had he not been blocked in by a lapped car, it could have been a spectacular battle for the win. Still, finishing second was a big boost for that team.

They have yet to lead a lap in the Chase, but the next three tracks on the schedule are some of Gordon's strongest. Watch for the No. 24 to make some noise over the next month.

As for the points leader, Mark Martin, he did what was needed to remain the leader. His seventh-place finish increases his points lead over Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth, to 18 points.

After winning the pole, I expected Martin to run well all afternoon, but he got shuffled back on some pit stops. Still, a great run by the No. 5 team to stay on top.

The biggest disappointment without question was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

How many bad breaks can this team get? The National Guard/Amp Energy car was fast, and ran incredibly well. Junior put the car on the outside pole, and ran at the front early in the race, leading 41 laps.

Then, everything began unravelling. First, a loose lug nut on a green-flag pit stop, forcing him to come back to pit road. The second stop put him one lap down.

Needless to say, Earnhardt Jr. was not as good in traffic as he was out front. Stuck behind other cars, his car appeared tight, and he could not make up ground.

Finally, the oil pump belt came off the motor. No oil pressure yielded another blown engine for the team. Their 36th-place finish is just another statistic on what has been a dismal season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It is now time for another trip out west to the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. The fourth race in the Chase, the Pepsi 500, kicks off on ABC at 2:30 p.m.