Jimmie Johnson Wins; Clint Bowyer Makes Chase; Kahne and Ragan Are Odd Men Out
The Sprint Cup Series headed to Richmond for the 26th and last race before the Chase for the Championship.
The race was scheduled for Saturday night, but Hurricane Hanna moved the race to Sunday instead. The field was set by owner points, which meant that Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, and Kasey Kahne, would be starting 12th, 13th, and 14th at the start of the race.
Before the race began, Bowyer was ahead of Ragan by 17 points and Kahne by 48 points. Bowyer was in the last transfer spot, before the race started, to see who would have a shot to race for the championship.
Since qualifying was rained out due to the hurricane, Kyle Busch started on the pole with Carl Edwards alongside in second spot. Busch would lead the first 28 laps of the race until Kevin Harvick mounted a charge to take the lead.
Harvick would be the leader of the race when NASCAR waved a competition caution for teams to come down pit road and make any necessary adjustments due to the lack of track time that the teams had because of the hurricane.
All the leaders would take advantage and come down pit road for tires and fuel. Jeff Gordon would win the race out of the pits with the help of a two-tire change.
Gordon would take the restart as the leader but Harvick would soon pass Gordon for the lead on lap 44. Harvick would continue to lead a good chunk of the race before Denny Hamlin passed him for the lead on lap 77.
Hamlin’s lead would be short lived though as Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Denny on lap 80 for the top spot. Earnhardt was leading the field under a long green flag run when the second caution flag of the race came out for Johnny Sauter cutting down a right front tire on lap 97.
The leaders would come down pit road once again with Earnhardt leading them out.
Earnhardt would continue to lead the race through three caution periods between a 20 lap span. The third out of the three cautions proved to be the most significant as David Ragan got loose and spun into the wall along with Matt Kenseth.
Ragan and Kenseth would make repairs and continue because both drivers were fighting for a chance to race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Earnhardt was still the leader through all this mess until Kevin Harvick passed him on lap 134 for the lead. Harvick was now leading the field when the sixth caution flag waved for a spin by Juan Pablo Montoya and Elliott Sadler on lap 165. This would allow all the leaders to come down pit road again with Earnhardt winning the battle off.
Shortly after the race restarted, the lead changed hands on three separate occasions. Harvick took the lead from Earnhardt on lap 173, Earnhardt took the lead from Harvick on lap 186, and Kyle Busch took the lead away from Earnhardt on lap 187.
A handful of laps later, after the halfway point of the race, the caution flag waved once again for a spin by Martin Truex Jr. and Sam Hornish. The leaders would hit pit road for another time, with Busch coming out as the leader.
As the race restarted, Earnhardt was all over the back of Kyle Busch for the lead. What happened a few laps later was a turning point in the race. Earnhardt got into turn one too hard, locking up his brakes, when Kyle Busch moved down the track into Earnhardt causing him to spin into the outside wall.
Now a lot of people may say that it was payback for Busch, who spun Jr. out earlier this season at Richmond in the late laps costing Earnhardt a victory. This was not intentional because Jr. tried to slow down and move down away from Busch.
This was evident when the smoke came pouring out when Jr. hit the brakes. Busch moved down the track slightly and got into Earnhardt, which sent him spinning into the wall. Busch would continue on after making repairs and still go on to have a strong run.
Earnhardt was still at the head of the field when Tony Stewart mounted a charge to pass Jr. for the lead on lap 236. A caution flag would wave, shortly after Stewart took the lead, for a spin by Kyle Busch at the back of the field.
This would be another turning point in the race as half the cars on the lead lap would come to pit road while 14 others stayed on the track.
David Reutimann and 13 others stayed on the track because they had pitted under the previous caution. Reutimann restarted as the leader pulling away from second place Mark Martin by over four seconds before the caution flag came out for Brian Vickers cutting down a right front tire on lap 297.
All the leaders would come to pit road this time with Reutimann holding serve as the leader after pit stops.
Reutimann continued to lead the race into the late laps until Stewart finally regained the lead with just 52 laps remaining.
Stewart’s lead would be short lived as a caution waved with about 40 laps to go for a spin involving Ryan Newman and Ken Schrader. The leaders would hit pit road once more with Truex leading everyone out to assume the lead on the restart.
Truex would lead for a short period of time before Jimmie Johnson took the top spot with 34 laps remaining. Just after Johnson made the pass on Truex for the lead, the 14th and final caution flag of the race waved for an accident by Paul Menard and Patrick Carpentier.
This would set up for a great shoot out between two former champions in Johnson and Stewart in the remaining laps.
Johnson and Stewart would battle side by side, with Stewart finally passing Johnson with fewer than 10 laps to go. But Johnson, being the veteran that he is, stayed along side Stewart and passed him on the high side of the track to capture his fourth victory of the season.
The other battle at the end of the race was to see who made it into the 12th and final spot into the Race for the Championship. Clint Bowyer would prevail over Kahne and Ragan, who both faltered towards the end.
The top ten finishers were Johnson, Stewart, Hamlin, Earnhardt, Martin, Burton, Harvick, Gordon, Reutimann, and Kurt Busch. Some notable finishes include Bowyer in 12th, Edwards in 13th, Greg Biffle in 14th, Kyle Busch in 15th, Kahne in 19th, Ragan in 32nd, and Matt Kenseth in 39th position.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup has reached its cutoff point, with the top 12 drivers in the point standings competing for the Championship.
Now, the point standings headed into the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire look like this:
- Kyle Busch
- Carl Edwards
- Jimmie Johnson
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Clint Bowyer
- Denny Hamlin
- Jeff Burton
- Tony Stewart
- Greg Biffle
- Jeff Gordon
- Kevin Harvick
- Matt Kenseth
The Chase begins next week. Who will come out of New Hampshire victorious? My prediction is that Clint Bowyer will once again win for the second straight year at New Hampshire, giving him a significant boost in the points.
My pick to win the Sprint Cup this year is Dale Earnhardt Jr. It is time for Jr. to show what he’s made of and prove he has what it takes to be a Champion in this series.
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