The Sprint Cup Series headed home to Charlotte this weekend for the fifth out of ten races in the Chase for the Championship. After last weekend's race at Talladega, many of the Chase drivers were left with slim hopes of winning the Championship after two big accidents eliminated more than half of the Chase contenders.
Jimmie Johnson somehow managed to escape Talladega with a solid top ten finish and a sizable points lead over second place Carl Edwards. Would Johnson be able to increase his point lead at Charlotte or would Johnson have problems leaving the door wide open for drivers to make a charge?
Johnson ended up starting from the pole position due to qualifying being rained out for the eighth time this year. This set the field by point standings, which put all the Chase drivers at the head of the grid.
All together, the Chase drivers had solid performances except for a select few. Early in the race, Jeff Gordon bounced off the wall twice within the first three laps of the race. This caused Gordon to come down pit road under green flag conditions to repair the damage.
Gordon would get repairs done and ended up getting his lap back on lap 54 when A.J. Allmendinger crashed to bring out the caution flag. Gordon would later lead in the race and went on to finish solidly in the top ten.
Another Chase contender was not so lucky. Carl Edwards had to pit under the green flag after running in the second position in the early laps for a vibration. Edwards' problems did not end there unfortunately.
After the third caution flag of the race came out for a crash involving Mike Skinner and Ken Schrader on lap 64, Edwards could not get his car started for the restart. He had to get a push back to pit road by a safety vehicle so his pit crew could fix the problem. Edwards would go 16 laps down while the problem was being fixed which essentially ruined his night. Edwards wounded up finishing a disappointing 33rd.
Shortly after Edwards had problems, another chase driver had bad luck. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running in the sixth position when his right front tire blew sending him into the turn two wall on lap 103. This would put Earnhardt behind the wall to make repairs, which set him 44 laps behind the leader. As a result, Earnhardt would finish back in the 36th position.
About 100 laps later, another Chase driver made misfortune strike. Matt Kenseth was running towards the back of the field when a crash happened in front of him. Kenseth moved to bottom of the track to avoid the spinning car of Tony Raines, but as he did, Travis Kvapil hit Kenseth in the right rear sending him hard into the wall. Kenseth would end up finishing way back in the 41st position.
The race began to get interesting when the 10th and final caution flag of the race came out for a crash by Juan Pablo Montoya with just 38 laps remaining. The leaders all had to come down pit lane because no one could make it to the end of the race on fuel. Jeff Burton came out of the pits with the lead after making a gas only stop.
This would prove to be the move of the race since Burton held off a charge by Johnson on the restart as well as a late race charge by Kasey Kahne in the final laps. The victory was Burton’s second of the season and it could not have come at a better time. With the victory, Burton now sits second in the point standings just 69 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
The top ten finishers in the race were Burton, Kahne, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Johnson, Greg Biffle, Gordon, Mark Martin, and David Ragan. Some notable finishes include Tony Stewart in 11th, Clint Bowyer in 12th, Kevin Harvick in 13th, and Denny Hamlin in 16th position.
The point standings are as following:
- Jimmie Johnson
- Jeff Burton –69
- Greg Biffle –86
- Carl Edwards –168
- Clint Bowyer –185
- Kevin Harvick –207
- Tony Stewart –228
- Jeff Gordon –245
- Kyle Busch –326
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. –354
- Matt Kenseth –360
- Denny Hamlin –380
Next week the Chase heads into Martinsville for the sixth race in the Chase for the Championship.