Tracking The Chase: From The Martinsville Paperclip To The Banks of Hallow-Dega
Martinsville Speedway offered everything that it normally has in the past with drama for the win, tempers, payback and tight racing. It certainly played it's role in the Chase for the Championship as now it's closer between the top three then it has been in awhile.
Denny Hamlin took the win, followed by Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, though the other chasers weren't as lucky as them.
12th: Clint Bowyer
After starting the race in 17th, Clint Bowyer finished 38th after a broken rear gear and now sits last, 406 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson.
“It’s a really disappointing finish for the BB&T Chevy after being so strong in practice," Bowyer said. "We were working on the handling and thought we were getting it figured out. It was the first time all weekend we had the wheel hopping, so not sure what happened. We’ll head to Talladega next weekend and hope for better results.”
Bowyer's chance for the championship is pretty much through and that is something that he has realized. This week, he gave his pit crew to Kevin Harvick, who is the highest Richard Childress Racing (RCR) car in points, as he had the quicker pit crew of the RCR teams. Bowyer now just looks to finish out the year with some wins.
In nine previous starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer has one top-five, three top-10s and an average finish of 21.4.
11th: No. 16 Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle, pictured with wife Nicole, finished 33rd after starting third, after struggling all day. The finish dropped him three spots to 11th, now 316 points behind Johnson.
Biffle has joined the party of being out of contention as being more than one race behind, 161 points, equals being too far out considering the type of competition at the top of the charts. To have everybody have at least one issue to therefore bring Biffle closer would be highly unlikely due to them being consistent.
In his past 15 starts at Talladega, Biffle has one top-five, two top 10s and an average finish of 20th.
10th: No. 17 Matt Kenseth
Unlike teammate Biffle, Matt Kenseth had a pretty good day as he finished 15th after starting 32nd and having a speeding penalty during the race. This allowed him to gain one spot in points, now 293 points behind Johnson.
Like teammate Biffle, Kenseth is out of the championship picture and now looks to close out the season with win No. 1 of 2010.
In his past 21 starts at Talladega, he has three top-fives, six top-10s and an average finish of 18.7.
9th: No. 2 Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch finished the day at Martinsville in 16th after starting 29th and through a feud with fellow chaser Jeff Gordon. Busch held his own ninth in points, 277 points behind Johnson.
"This place has been a monster for me over the years," said Busch, who after starting 29th, couldn't get into the top 10 until Lap 375. "We started back in the pack, worked our way up and gained a ton of track position. Then we came in under green and had to pit a second time because of some loose lug nuts, which cost us all of our position.
"We fought our way back inside the top 10, dropped to 15th, back inside the top 12 -- just a back and forth effort all day for us. We rubbed fenders, battled and clawed all day -- there was a lot of hard racing going on all day.
Like the previous two, Busch now sits outside the Chase contention window, though could help himself with a win this weekend.
In his past 19 starts at Talladega, he has six top fives, 13 top-10s and an average finish of 12.8.
8th: No. 31 Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton finished ninth after starting 18th after falling back at the end and going through a tussle with teammate Kevin Harvick. Burton gained two spots, now 246 points behind.
“The Caterpillar Chevy just got really loose at the end," Jeff Burton said. "We took off and didn’t have any rear grip. We never could hold our own. And, of course, it got worse and worse. We were trying to keep the pace and I was trying to keep myself in position and, in doing so, the right-rear tire wore off. That’s the worst thing you can do on a long run. It just didn’t accept the speed on that last run for whatever reason and just killed the right-rear tire. We didn’t have that problem all day and had it on the last run, so I am really disappointed. Obviously, the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet was fast all day prior to that. We weren’t as good as we needed to be at the end. We put a great effort out there and it’s hard to believe you can finish ninth in a car that was that good.”
Burton now joins the list of those who are out of the championship picture as this charge now comes late for him. If anything, it'll allow the records to show that he ran better than some others.
In his past 33 starts at Talladega, he has four top-fives, 13 top-10s and an average finish of 18.4.
7th: No. 14 Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart finished 24th after starting sixth on a track that normally he has normally run well at in the past due to pit road and handling issues. This caused Stewart to drop one spot in the standings, now 236 points behind.
“We got better and better as the day went on, then got a little bit off at the middle of the race, but we had a fast car after that,” Crew Chief Darian Grubb said. “We had a pit-road speeding penalty that was our own fault, then a pit-road miscue that was our own fault and a couple of other things that kept knocking us back. Then it went green for a really long time at the end, and our car got really tight and we’re not sure really why. But then we blew a bead out (in the right-front tire), had to come in under green and finished two laps down.”
A couple weeks ago, Stewart did some math that would proclaim him as the Cup champion. However, with some more bad finishes, Stewart's math looks to have failed and now the focus shifts to winning races.
Talladega may be a good track to start as he seems to always find his way to the front. In his past 23 starts there, he has one win, nine top-fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 23.8
6th: No. 99 Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards had a solid day at Martinsville as he finished eighth after starting seventh, allowing him to move up a spot in the standings, now 213 points behind.
“Our Aflac crew didn’t give up," Edwards said. "We dropped like we had an anchor in the beginning and went to the back. Bob did a great job with pit strategy. That was pretty cool and then the guys did a good job on pit road. On that last run people were just falling left and right, so I started going easier because I figured they were melting the inside of the beads or something. It was just a really trying day for eveybody’s car and for all the drivers. I know for me personally I was worn out towards the end, but to come home eighth, I don’t know how we did in points, but it’s probably better than we started and that’s good.”
I know this is getting old, but yes, Edwards is also out of the contention and now looks towards Talladega, a track where he has ran well, though at times, hasn't had the best of luck. In his past 12 starts at Talladega, he has one top-five, three top 10s and an average finish of 22.5
5th: No. 24 Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon finished 20th after starting 11th on a track where he normally runs well, as a result of contact with Kurt Busch. With the finish, Gordon dropped a spot in points, now 203 points behind.
"We just did what we could do to come home with the best finish we could," Gordon said. "Our championship hopes have taken a big hit the last couple of weeks, so for us, it's not about that right now, it's about going out and getting the best finishes that we can and trying to win races.
"I felt like, at times, we had a car capable of winning [Sunday] and that pit stop hurt us and we were back there battling our way back up there, slowly but surely. And that incident, I gave [Busch] a reason to get upset -- so I wish I hadn't of done that.
"But, we were racing hard. And then what it does for us for the championship is really insignificant, in my opinion. At this point we're just racing to try to get the best finishes and we'll continue to do that as we move forward."
Gordon's words of trying to get the best finishes possible and wins seem to the best possible scenario for him, as he now sits on the outside of the championship hopes.
In his past 35 starts at Talladega, he has six wins, 13 top-fives, 16 wins and an average finish of 16.7 so therefore Talladega is a good start.
4th: No. 18 Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch had a solid day as he finished fourth after starting 26th, therefore allowing himself to move up a spot in the standings, now 172 points behind.
“That was just a good way to run here at Martinsville – one of these places that I struggle at tremendously,” said Busch. “We really fought a couple things that we made changes with but, overall, the guys did a great job from when we unloaded here. We were a little off, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys never gave up on this M&M’s Camry and they made a lot of changes and got it a lot better. Real proud of the effort and the way we came out here today. Pit strategy got us up front and we kind of kept it from there. We weren’t that great on the beginning of the run – I would fall back a little bit, probably a couple seconds off the lead – but then, after about 40 or 50 laps, I could start reeling them back in a little bit. There just weren’t enough of those long runs in there to keep us in the ball game. Overall, a good day for us and we’ll take it.”
Busch looks to be out of the hunt, however he's not that far out and with Talladega being a track where anything is possible, Busch could easily get back into the hunt.
In his past 11 starts at Talladega, he has one win, one top-five, two top 10s and an average finish of 23.2.
3rd: No. 29 Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick had a good, solid day as he drove through the field to finish third after starting near the back, now sitting third in the standings, 62 points behind.
“I just have to thank everybody on this Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet," Harvick said. "Those guys on pit road were just awesome today and really kept us up front and in the race. That’s what we have to do. We kept the No. 48 (Johnson) behind us and the No. 11 (Hamlin) in sight. Everybody said this was going to be a two-horse race, and we were right there in the middle of it. So, today was a lot of fun. We came here and finished third at a track that we never had a top-five finish. Right now, we have four more weeks. I’m really looking forward to Talladega and just racing hard.”
Harvick sits in the opportunity position, ready to pounce if the two front runners mess up. With the series going to Talladega, it equals the perfect opportunity for him as in the past year at the restrictor plate tracks, Harvick has been in the thick of the win, winning two of the three this year.
In 19 previous starts at Talladega, he has one win, four top-fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 15.5.
2nd: No. 11 Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin did everything he needed to do as he won the race, pulling himself to now only six points behind Johnson.
"We're back, baby," Hamlin exulted in the radio as he approached the finish line. "Awesome job."
Hamlin came into the chase with the confidence that he'd be the 2010 Champion and with him being as close as he is to Johnson, it is definitely a reality.
In his past nine starts at Talladega, he has three top-fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 19.3, despite being known as one of the best in the two-car tandem set-up.
1st: No. 48 Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson had a consistent day at Martinsville as he finished fifth after starting 19th.
“Good top-five finish today. We certainly wanted to finish higher. But it's over and done with,” said Johnson. “It is what it is. Top five is something would have been a good goal coming in here this weekend. We're rolling into Talladega. We all know what can happen there. Happy to still be leading. Wish the margin had gone the other way. Denny won the race, closed it up. We'll buckle down, go to work the next four.”
Avoiding trouble may be the key to Johnson's title hopes as normally, once he is past Talladega, he goes on a roll.
In his past 17 starts at Talladega, he has one win, four top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 17.8.
Beware Of Hallow-Dega
After displaying all the stats, some of you may have your picks chosen for Talladega and be thinking of what could happen to the points. But in the end, it all don't matter as anything and everything can happen at Talladega.