With two races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the race for the championship is primarily a two-man battle.
Red-hot Tony Stewart won his second straight race in the playoffs Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s his fourth win in eight Chase races. He led a race-high 173-laps. He’s now just a mere three points behind leader Carl Edwards, who finished second.
How is Edwards managing to stay ahead of Stewart in the standings, despite not winning a race in the playoff? It’s all about consistency. He has finished in the top ten in seven of the eight races, with the lone exception being an 11th place finish at Talladega. He’s been the points’ leader for five consecutive weeks now. Stewart had to fight just to get into the Chase.
Kevin Harvick is a distant third, 33 points behind Edwards.
BUSCH PARKED — The other major headline from the race weekend at Texas involved Kyle Busch. After deliberately wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck Series race Friday night, NASCAR parked Busch for the rest of the weekend. Busch and Hornaday made contact, bringing out the caution. Busch drove right up to Hornaday’s bumper – under caution – and sent the Trucks’ championship contender nose-first into the wall.
Busch was a long shot to win the Sprint Cup title at that point anyway. Now, forget about it.
NEXT WEEK: The second-to-last race of the season at Phoenix. Jeff Gordon, who’s had a very quiet Chase, won the first race at the one-mile oval back in February.
The sixth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup ended up being a battle between two drivers who aren’t even vying for the title.
Clinton Bowyer and Jeff Burton had been working together in the two-car drafting at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. Coming off the final turn, Bowyer passed Burton and edged him at the finish line. It was Bowyer’s first win of the season, and the 100th victory for Richard Childress Racing in the Cup Series.
It was a rough day for some of the Chasers. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both had accidents that cost them big-time. Jimmie Johnson was never a factor in the end, despite his usual hanging in the back of the pack.
Carl Edwards is still the point’s leader, as well as 14 points ahead of Matt Kenseth.
Next week – short-track racing at Martinsville, which should be fun.
We are halfway through the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The title is still up for grabs, although three drivers are starting to separate themselves from the pack.
One of them is Matt Kenseth, who drove his #17 car to victory lane Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was his first win of the playoffs, and third of 2011, (he also won at Texas and Dover back in the spring.) With the victory, he moved into third place, just seven points behind leader Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick remains in second, five points behind Edwards.
On Saturday night, Kenseth passed Kyle Busch on a restart with 25 laps remaining, and never looked back. Busch had been in control for much of the race. Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five.
The other headline involves five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. His bid for another title took a major hit – literally. Late in the race, he got loose coming off Turn 2, spun around, and then his #48 car went slamming nose-first into the outside wall. He finished 34th on Saturday night, and is now eighth in the standings.
The other big on-track incident was also in Turn 2. Kahne, Jeff Gordon and David Ragan were three-wide. There was contact, and when it was all over, all three drivers were sitting idle along the inside wall. Gordon finished 21st, as his struggles in the Chase continue.
Tony Stewart, who didn’t secure his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup until the last moment, won the first race of NASCAR’s playoffs Monday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway. The #14 team played the fuel mileage game to perfection, as tons of cars ran out of gas on the final lap. It was Stewart’s first win of the season, and first overall since October of 2010.
Stewart moved all the way up to 2nd in the standings. Kevin Harvick has taken over first place in the Chase. He finished 2nd while fellow contenders Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards finished 3rd and 4th.
Among those running out of fuel at the end were Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. Both drivers took serious hits in the standings, falling all the way to 10th and 11th respectively. Here are the updated standings:
DRIVER POINTS BACK
Kevin Harvick —
Tony Stewart -7
Matt Kenseth -8
Jimmie Johnson -9
Ryan Newman -10
Carl Edwards – 14
Kurt Busch -15
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -16
Brad Keselowski -18
Kyle Busch -19
Jeff Gordon -24
Denny Hamlin -41
It was a relatively clean race. So the Wreck Wrap is taking the week off.
NEXT WEEK: it’s the second race of the Chase, and the second of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Ryan Newman won there back in July. It should be a fun time, as always. I’ll be in Loudon to take it all in.
With two races remaining before the Chase for the Championship begins, there is little doubt who the surprise driver of 2011 is.
It’s Brad Keselowski, the driver of the #2 Dodge, who won his third race of the season Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has been red-hot over the past month. His broken ankle has not slowed him down; two of his four wins have come since the injury. Throw in a second and third-place finish, and it’s easy to see why he’s jumped from 21st to 11th in the standings. If he can’t crack the Top 10, his three wins will likely earn him one of the two wild-card spots.
Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five.
Denny Hamlin is hanging on by a thread to the other wild-card spot. He got a much-needed Top 10 finish last night (7th.) Johnson and Kyle Busch are tied atop the standings.
THE WRECK WRAP:
David Reutimann went spinning into the inside wall, courtesy of a little contact from behind by David Stremme. Hamlin and Paul Menard spun out trying to avoid the crash. Both drivers remained in the race.
Mark Martin got into the back of Brian Vickers. Martin’s #5 car got the worst of that incident.
NEXT WEEK: They’ll be celebrating Labor Day weekend by racing under the lights Sunday in Atlanta. There are only two races left before the Chase.