Race three in The Chase for the Nextel Cup finds the teams clicking their heels and heading to Kansas Speedway for the Banquet 400.
Ray Evernham’s cars looked strong in qualifying, with Chase contender Kasey Kahne taking his fifth pole position of the year in the number nine Dodge Dealers Charger, and teammate Scott Riggs was second for the second week in the number ten Valvoline Dodge.
Kahne finds himself in real trouble after a mediocre 16th-place finish at New Hampshire, but a devastating 38th last week at Dover, after being wrecked when Tony Stewart spun early in the race. If Kahne’s luck has been bad, Kyle Busch’s luck is the epitome of “worse”. Shrub has finishes of 38th and 40th in the first two Chase races, and finds himself mired in 10th in points, 224 behind the leader.
Speaking of the leader, Richard Childress Racing continues to show the lead in races, with Kevin Harvick having won Richmond and New Hampshire back-to-back, and Jeff Burton breaking through with his first win in five years last week at Dover in the number 31 Cingular Chevy. The win was huge for Burton and the 31 team, and takes a monkey off their back that could give them the confidence boost needed to win The Chase.
Harvick’s streak of finishes ended at Dover when his engine expired late in the race—relegating him to 32nd, and dropping him to fifth in points, 54 behind teammate Burton. Harvick continued his dominance in the Busch Series with another win Saturday at Kansas, further stretching his insurmountable point lead over the field in NASCAR’s junior league.
As for coming back, Jeff Gordon has come back from a poor performance at Richmond to finish third at both New Hampshire and Dover, vaulting himself into second in The Chase, six points behind leader Burton. Gordon put the DuPont Chevy on the pole at the Monster Mile last week, but failed to lead a lap, being slower on restarts than the likes of Matt Kenseth. Kenseth’s DeWalt Ford was dominant at Dover, and was involved in some great racing with Jeff Burton over the last 30 laps. But when push came to shove, the 17 car ran out of fuel with just over a lap to go, relegating Kenseth to tenth and tied for third in The Chase with rookie Denny Hamlin.
Mark Martin has yet to show anything in The Chase so far sitting sixth, and bad luck has mired Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in seventh and eighth respectively. Johnson’s Chase hopes aren’t dashed, but he cannot afford to have another bad finish. The racers understand that you can have one bad race in the final ten, but this “mulligan” is a one-time deal. Johnson has already used his – Busch and Kahne have used theirs and perhaps another. They will have to not only run up front for the remaining races, but hope for bad luck to strike the drivers ahead of them in the points to have a chance.
Kansas Speedway is very similar to Chicagoland, meaning Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth should be near the front, and Mark Martin is the defending race champion. However the RCR juggernaut is looking good and Harvick's strong performance on Saturday may be cause for the other Chasers. On the other hand, Kasey Kahne has been very good at mile-and-a-half speedways this season, and starting up front could help make up some of the points deficit the nine is in.