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Pedley: Drama Survives A Weekend In Kansas

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 5 2009
The 48 car did not run away and hide Sunday at Kansas Speedway. It actually had a relatively average day.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 48 car did not run away and hide Sunday at Kansas Speedway. It actually had a relatively average day. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Kansas City, Kan. – At mid afternoon on Sunday, it was all turning into a droner. The race, the season and the mood. It was not what the full house at Kansas Speedway wanted and it was certainly not what NASCAR and ESPN wanted. Drama was headed for the airport.

But then, racing happened. Unpredictable, change-in-a-moment, sit-right-back-down racing and perhaps the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship was salvaged because of it.

Drama had re-entered the building.

The Price Chopper 400 had a familiar autumn feel to it early Sunday afternoon. Bright sun, blue sky, light-jacket required and the Jimmie and Chad Show elbowing 42 other Sprint Cup teams to the brink of irrelevancy.

The No. 48 car was up front, running with typical efficiency and seemingly headed for victory.

The car of Mark Martin, the Chase points leader, was running near the front but was in danger of having its point lead eaten up by Johnson and we all know what happens when that 48 team eats up point leads at this time of the season: The Chase turns into The Getaway.

And it flat out looked like the Chase could emerge from Kansas – and just the third event of the playoff – stripped of about all of the drama that everybody in racing is hoping for.

Fortunately, crew chief Chad Knaus made the wrong call on tires during a pit stop – and admitted as much over the radio to his team and driver – and Johnson wound up finishing ninth. Not bad for drivers not named Jimmie Johnson, below average during the heat of a Chase for that 48 bunch.

Martin finished seventh.

Both finished behind Chasers Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya who were first, second, third and fourth respectively.

That meant that not only had the Chase avoided a disheartening corrosion of playoff suspense, but that the interest level for the final seven races was kicked up a tad.

When the series arrives in Southern California this week, seven drivers will be within 115 points of leader Martin. Three will be within 67 points.

For one more week, at least, the Chase possesses gripping possibilities.

That was one of the reasons Martin got a tad cranky when somebody suggested to him post race that he must be happy about holding onto his point lead.

“Yeah, you can look at anything any way you want,” Martin said. “I did and I didn’t. I extended on the 48 but I didn’t on several guys. Look at it however you want.  It’s a race, OK? Every race, that’s how you score points. 
 “What is there, seven more to go?  I don’t think we should be getting all hyped up about the tally right now, you know.  We’ve got a lot of racing to go. The races are actually what determines it.  We had a good race, a good result based off of being a whisker off.”

Gordon was in a better mood because he was able to cut into the lead and revive his championship hopes.

“We definitely made some gains, but I don’t think the big swings come on days like this,” Gordon said. “Days like (Kansas) definitely help, but the swings are going to come at places like Talladega and Martinsville. I mean, it can happen any day. But we can’t expect to make up 100 points on these guys in one weekend.”

After getting the victory, his first in six races, you figure Stewart should have been ecstatic.

Not.

This questions was put to Stewart post race, “Speaking of making gains, entering the race there were only three drivers within 106 points of the lead, now there’s six.  How important is that, and you’re one of the guys that made up a sizable amount of points.  How important is that right now?”

He, too, got chippy.

This answer came from Stewart: “It depends on who you’re talking to. It’s not important to me that there’s that many guys there. I want to be within 10 points of it, obviously.  But it shows how competitive this Chase is. Guys that were up front there had average days, and a lot of guys closed on them today.  It just shows that you’re going to have to be on for 10 weeks to win this thing, and if you have a bad day, there’s going to be guys that are going to capitalize on it.”

But those who have watched the Chase the last three year know this: It will take more than one bad day by Johnson and Knaus to keep this thing suspenseful between now and the race season-ender at Homestead-Miami in November.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 5 2009
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