As time runs short for those looking to make it into the Chase, the racing heats up. Fontana Auto Club Speedway is a D-shaped oval with low-banking, where cornering counts. They may be long and sweepin,g but if you over drive them you will end up in the wall, something Robby Gordon learn the hard way this race.
Fontana is also a horsepower race in and out of the corners—no brake for engines here. For many teams, the cautions were the only things which reeled the leaders back into challenging range.
Ranked 12th – Clint Bowyer (#07)
Change in Standing
What can one say about Bowyer? If you can’t say something nice...Well, okay here is nice: Bowyer, in the last two races, has constantly finished in the top ten. Not nice: Bowyer is only in the Chase because the field above him blows engines and crashes. In my opinion it should be Kahne or Ragan in the Chase, not Bowyer.
However, with that said, Bowyer did have a good showing at Fontana. By Lap 92 after passing Edwards, he entered the top ten, where he would stay until Lap 125 (falling to 12th). He would lose some ground on pitting but eventually gain it again with the help of cautions. Bowyer was able regain tenth and hold it to the end.
So what is my problem? Simple: Look at Kahne during that same race, fighting for it, going side-by-side multiple times, racing Kyle Busch right to the end. Sure, it is not Bowyer’s fault that Kahne blew an engine then wrecked in the fallowing race, but if you are going to get into the Chase through others' failure, the least Bowyer can do is step up and race like he is meant to be there.
Ranked 11th – Denny Hamlin (#11)
Change in Standing
Michigan led to an angry Hamlin lashing out publicly on his team—not the best move, but you can’t say it didn’t get results. The last two races Hamlin has finished third.
I, for one, have had a hard time determining my view on Hamlin. At midseason he looked like the underdog of Gibbs racing, worthy of support. Then he just fizzled—he wasn’t dreadful or good, I described him as lackluster. He didn’t fight for a top-five position, certainly that has changed, thus I can’t help but look at him as that underdog once again.
Last weekend Hamlin started at 21st, but quickly moved into the top ten by Lap 31. Hamlin took advantage of the restart after the early yellow flag on Lap 68 to move up to third. Hamlin’s team was strong on pit stops and he lost very little track position throughout the race.
Hamlin was in a solid third for the last half of the race. Nonetheless, he simply didn’t have the horsepower to challenge Biffle. The many cautions helped Hamlin stay close to Biffle, but the longer they were green, the faster Biffle slipped away.
With one race to go sitting 11th in the standing isn’t comfortable, but if Hamlin continues to bring the energy of his last two runs to the next race, he should coast into the Chase. Once in the Chase, it will be interesting to see if Hamlin goes for it or settles back into third-driver mood.
Ranked 10th – Jeff Gordon (#24)
Change in Standing
If there is one word to sum up Gordon’s problems, it is handling. The No. 24 team can bring a fast car to qualifying, yet they can make it drivable for the race.
The lack of handling was clear early on when Gordon dropped to eleventh by Lap 65. From then on, we would see the cycling of Gordon trying to hold track position then pitting for major adjustment, a routine which unfortunately has become the No. 24 team's style for the last part of this season.
Many people’s analysis of Gordon's falling in the standing has focused on him as a driver. Gordon's record is one of the best out there, thus the bar is set high for him. The theory that Gordon should be able to drive through it despite the car is flawed. Could the star quarterback make the winning pass with a deflated ball?
The astonishing thing about Gordon is that even with the “deflated ball” he gets out there goes side by side with Ragan in Lap 177 for 18th.Gordon races no matter what you give him.
Plus, whatever the frustrations the No. 24 team are having in the garage, you won’t hear Gordon set the problems at their feet publicly. For all his faults, Gordon has always been classy in that regard.
Will America's Premier short track shake things up? I, for one, am looking forward to Ragan or Kahne knocking Bowyer out of the Chase. Will we finally see the No. 24 team pull it together and Gordon come out with a win? I would like to say yes, but I would look more to Harvick pulling off a last minute win before Gordon. Richmond will be raw emotions and it should be exciting.
Until next time, happy cheering from the bottom of the bucket!
Sources: NASCAR.com, ESPN, ESPN.com, and autoracingblog.net.