Chase for the Cup Preview

Jeffrey BoswellAnalyst ISeptember 3, 2009

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 10:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, take the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International on August 10, 2009 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)


Former Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick issues the "Gentlemen, start your engines" command to start the Pep Boys 500. Ironically, it is Kyle Busch, piloting the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota, who dominates the race, with sights firmly set on piercing the top 12 in the point standings.

Busch leads 297 of 330 laps, and seems well on his way to victory before tragedy strikes, with cat-like quickness and with equal irony, when Busch is collected in a crash involving Jeff Burton's No. 31 Caterpillar and Mark Martin's No. 5 Chevy, featuring Tony the Tiger on the hood.

Kasey Kahne takes the victory while Busch recovers to finish 10th, keeping his Chase hopes alive. Busch guarantees victory at Richmond the following week.


It's a veritable free-for-all at Richmond, as drivers hoping to maintain or secure a Chase position navigate a track littered with the wreckage of Chase-safe drivers gunning for a victory. Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch wreck early, while Kyle Busch makes good on his guarantee and wins, finishing 11th in the points and grabbing a share of top seeding in the Chase based on his four wins.

Mark Martin, also with four wins, comes home sixth in Richmond, while Tony Stewart finishes second.

Brian Vickers snags the final spot in the Chase, gutting out a fifth-place finish as Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth falter with engine troubles and stumble from the top 12.

Chase seedings— Martin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Juan Montoya.

New Hampshire

Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson renew their feud at Loudon, heatedly battling over the last 100 laps on the 1.06 mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

On a crucial pit under caution with 30 laps to go, Busch beats Johnson out of the pits, and holds off the No. 48 on the final lap with a controversial block, a maneuver Johnson later diplomatically describes as "so much worse than ‘bush league' that it probably violates the Geneva Conventions."

Busch offers no apologies and celebrates in Victory Lane, as Johnson glares angrily, yet calmly, at the spectacle through his shades, while plotting not revenge, but strategy for next week at Dover. Asked later in the media room what he was doing, Johnson replies simply that he was processing the situation through "Lowe's-colored glasses."

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch


An angry Johnson sweeps the weekend at Dover, topping both practice sessions, winning the pole, and taking Sunday's Price Chopper 400. Johnson's No. 48 Impala is so dominant that he laps several competitors and wins by a whopping eight second margin.

He gains a measure of revenge by lapping Kurt Busch twice while nudging the right side door of Busch's No. 2 each time by, a move Johnson later joyfully recounts as "shotgunning" Miller Lite.

Martin stays on Johnson's tail with a third-place finish, while Kyle Busch holds on to second in the points with a fifth, then collectively criticizes the 31 non-Chase drivers as a "speed impediment."

Busch storms from his car after the race, gets lost on the way to his hauler, and accidentally walks smack dab right through the middle of a predominantly Junior Nation campground, where he inadvertently qualifies for a "chase."

Busch is pursued by angry villagers wielding torches and pitchforks, and is cornered in an abandoned silo, where he is rescued by mad scientist Dr. Igor Punch, brother of Dr. Jerry Punch.

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Kyle Busch, Martin


The first of three Chase flat tracks is the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Kansas, maybe the least-known track on the NASCAR circuit and one that certainly has fans hoping NASCAR will soon be saying, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

Flat tracks, of course, are a favorite of Roush Fenway cars, and Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth lead an early charge, as the trio trade the lead over the first 150 laps. Johnson struggles early, falling a lap down after getting caught in the pits during a caution.

But in typical Johnson fashion, he finds the groove late, and leads until he's passed by Jeff Gordon. Gordon pulls away for the win, while Johnson takes the runner-up position and lengthens his lead in the points.

Kyle Busch tangles with Brian Vickers early in the race as the two battle for 27th position, and they crash out, giving up the position to Brad Keselowski. Busch and Vickers then share an awkward ride together in the ambulance en route to the infield care center.

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Martin, Gordon


Just when it looks as if Johnson will run away with the Cup, trouble arises in California. Johnson wins the pole, but blows an engine in practice, forcing him to start from the back. With their setup off the mark, the No. 48 falls a lap down early and never recovers, finishing 27th, as Martin wins.

Chase standings top three — Martin, Gordon, Johnson


Is there any doubt who will win this race? With Lowe's ending it's sponsorship of Lowe's Motor Speedway at the end of this season, Jimmie Johnson wants to give Lowe's a going away present.

And he does, winning at Charlotte. Johnson performs a lengthy celebratory post-race burnout, spelling the words "Bi-Lo's" in hot rubber on the front straightaway, thrilling the fans and giving the speedway a pretty good lead to pursue for new sponsorship.

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Martin, Gordon


Denny Hamlin, edged by Johnson at Martinsville in March, beats Jeff Gordon to the stripe in a thrilling finish to the TUMS Fast Relief 500. Johnson struggles with handling all day, and he fails in his attempt to sweep the two Martinsville dates, finishing 28th.

An ecstatic Hamlin celebrates excitedly in Victory Circle, although sponsor Fed Ex later distances itself from Hamlin's "Grab the Package" victory celebration.

Chase standings top three — Gordon, Hamlin, Martin


The high-banked 2.66-mile superspeedway in Alabama is easily the most unpredictable factor in the Chase. April's version saw spectacular crashes and an unlikely winner, Brad Keselowski. Chase hopes can be dashed in the blink of an eye, or in the backwash of unstable air coming off a rear spoiler.

So, crew chiefs are nervous. Drivers are nervous. Even fans are a bit edgy. It seems that memories of Carl Edwards' crash, and some disturbing scenes in The Final Destination movie, have fans spooked, and the race begins with not a single fan in the 10 rows of seats nearest the catch-fence.

The "Big One" comes early, as the lapped car of Michael Waltrip spins in front of the onrushing field, causing a massive pile-up that wipes out nine of the twelve Chasers. Johnson's No. 48 and Kurt Busch's No. 2 come to rest side-by-side, and the two engage in a shouting match.

The endless bickering is finally broken up by none other than Tony Stewart, who slaps Johnson and Busch Three Stooges-style to get them to cease.

Juan Montoya eventually wins, setting off a wild celebration in Colombia, while things remain relatively quiet in Columbia, SC, Columbia, MO, and Columbia, NH. Kyle Busch finishes second as only 26 cars are running at race's end. Busch leaps from fourth to the lead in the Sprint Cup standings.

Chase standings top three — Kyle Busch, Gordon, Johnson


Once again, Johnson rebounds from a Chase-damaging finish the previous week with a win the following week. Johnson wins the Dickies 500, despite having a long run in the lead interrupted when the race is red flagged after a bag of white trash, later identified as Lisa Mayfield, finds its way on the track.

Johnson regains the points lead and celebrates Texas-style in Victory Circle, where it is proven once again that Richard Petty is the only driver that looks cool in a cowboy hat.

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Gordon, Stewart


With his fourth-consecutive Cup title in sight, Johnson looks strong early in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, leading 60 of the first 100 laps. Johnson's "clinching" of the Cup seems imminent, verified by the "clenching" of his competitors' sphincters. But Gordon and Stewart gamble on a late pit stop, taking two tires while Johnson opts for four.

Gordon and Stewart lead at the restart, but Johnson, restarting 16th, roars to the front, and splits the No. 24 and No. 14 for the lead with six to go. Gordon and Stewart fade, while Johnson takes the checkered flag, all but insuring the Cup title.

Kyle Busch takes second, and is practically the only driver with a realistic chance of catching Johnson in the final race.

Chase standings top three — Johnson, Kyle Busch, Hamlin


Scandal rocks the Sprint Cup garage on Saturday, when NASCAR announces that a member of Carl Edwards' pit crew has tested positive for a banned substance. Further tests reveal even more shocking results—Edwards, picked by many to win the Sprint Cup before the season, tests negative for victories.

All is well in the No. 48 Lowe's camp, however, as Johnson merely needs to avoid disaster to clinch his fourth title. Johnson can wrap up the title by finishing no worse than eleven positions behind Kyle Busch. Johnson plays it conservatively, hovering just outside the top 15 for most of the race while keeping an eye on Kyle Busch and two on Kurt.

Up front, the Roush Fenway cars of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth jockey for the lead. On the final lap, Kenseth has the lead until Edwards wildly dives low for the pass, spinning Kenseth, who takes out Biffle. Jamie McMurray, odd man out at Roush Fenway, slides through the wreckage for the win.

Kenseth and Biffle confront Edwards and yank him out of the No. 99 Aflac Fusion and beat him with down pillows, shouting "duck, duck, goose!" in the process.

Johnson celebrates his fourth Sprint Cup championship after sweating out a post-race inspection.