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Williams: This Cup Chase Has Been Biz-zarre

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011

Jimmie Johnson's crew works on his demolished Chevrolet in the garages at Charlotte. The end of the greatest streak in NASCAR history? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – Matt Kenseth’s Saturday night Bank of America 500 victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the half way point in a title chase that has displayed only one characteristic – unpredictability.

In fact, third-place finisher and points leader Carl Edwards readily admits “this season’s not like others.” He believes it will “come down, literally, to the last few laps at Homestead” before this year’s champion is determined.

The uniqueness of this year’s Chase was evident from the beginning. First, there was no clear-cut favorite for the title when the Chase began. Then, until the series outing at CMS, one of five1.5-mile tracks in the 10-race Chase, the position atop the standings had a different look ever week. After the Chase’s opening race, it was Kevin Harvick by seven points over Tony Stewart. Then it was Stewart by seven over Harvick. Following Dover, Harvick and Edwards were tied for the lead. Edwards took the top spot by one over Harvick at Kansas, then increased it to five over the Richard Childress Racing driver at CMS.

Kenseth, in third, now trails Roush Fenway Racing teammate Edwards by seven points. Kyle Busch, who finished second at CMS, is fourth, 18 points in arrears.

Jimmie Johnson, who said he didn’t believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx but admitted entering the race he was stressing over the cars’ unpredictable nature, now finds himself in an unusual situation.

Jeff Gordon was spun by David Ragan at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

With five races remaining, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion sits eighth in the standings, 35 points behind Edwards.

After being seeded sixth for the Chase, Johnson used two races – Dover and Kansas — to recover from a 29-point deficit. He entered the Charlotte weekend in third, a mere four points behind leader Edwards. Then came lap 317 of the 334-lap Charlotte race when Johnson took a vicious head-on hit into the second turn outside wall. That left him 34th in the finishing order and eighth in the standings – 35 points behind Edwards. It was Johnson’s worst finish in a Chase race since 2009 when he placed 38th at Texas.

“Definitely not the night we wanted,” Johnson said. “There are five races left and right now all we have are those five races. We will go out and give 100 percent and see where it shakes out.”

For Johnson to rebound and have a shot at his unprecedented sixth straight title, veteran team owner Jack Roush said the southern California native must “stand in line and wait for the other folks in the top 5 to have problems for him to get back in it.”

“He won’t race his way back in it,” Roush continued. “He won’t finish high enough above the top four or five cars to beat them on the race track. He’ll have to wait for them to have trouble, I think.”

However, none of the drivers discount Johnson.

“He could go on a tear and be leading the points in three or four weeks,” Edwards commented.

Ironically, Kenseth, with three victories this season, still doesn’t have a sponsor for 2012. Yet, the Wisconsin native isn’t worried and he’s quietly carving a path that could lead to his second series

Those Wisconsin guys can be awfully quiet. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

championship.

“It seems like those Wisconsin guys are awfully quiet most of the time,” commented Busch, who has yet to win a Chase race. “They will squeak it out there at the end and leave you in the dust.”

Kenseth believes the 1.5-mile tracks remaining in the Chase – Texas and Homestead – favor the Roush Fenway cars.

“Those are the two I’m looking forward to the most,” Kenseth said after winning his first Chase race since 2007 at Homestead. “It’s weird going to Homestead because it’s the last race of the year, it’s a different layout, we race there one time a year and you get there and it almost feels like a new track every time you go there.”

Entering Talladega next weekend, two of the top three positions in the standings belong to Roush Fenway.

“We have a lot of depth in the organization,” Roush calmly noted. “We had seven of our cars [Fords] tonight that ran in the top 10 most of the night. We are at the top of our game as far as our mile-and-a-half program. There’s other teams that have got good programs, but nobody has got a better mile-and-half program than us.

“We are in championship form. In my 24 years, I’ve never had better cars for the championship stretch than we have got and we are anxious to see how it’s going to work out.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Don Romero says:

    Matt’s resume in Cup and Nationwide is as extensive as any of the top NASCAR drivers. The one element missing is a gaudy number of race wins. Those that hav’em like Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon and now Johnson benefitted greatly from having superior and far superior equipment over the rest of the fields in their day.

    (FWIW, I still wonder how many other ‘cheats’ Chad Knaus has found outside the specific NASCAR inspection guidelines.)

    The big hole in Roush and Kenseth’s performance during the past 4-5 years has been the cars and engines and chassis — not Matt’s (and Carl’s) driving skills or heart. But clearly, with the new improved Ford engines and chassis, the Roush and other Ford teams ARE back in the hunt and competitive again.

    It’s no surprise to me that (with good or bad equipment) the routinely BEST finishing Ford drivers — Kenseth and Edwards — are both at the top of the standings this year.

  • Sue Rarick says:

    It’s kind of funny to listen to the Roush family. They sound more like a group begging for sponsors than a championship contending group. Maybe Waltrip should start a school on how to get sponsors.

    LMAO … Just had a mental picture of Jack and Richard in school chairs and Waltrip teaching in his Napa knowhow uniform.

    • Theoacme says:

      …well, Sue, if you had won the last Winston Cup, forced the France family to institute the Chase as a result of your consistency, competed well, generally stayed out of trouble, met all of your sponsor commitments, and were third in the Chase, seven points back, and made the Chase every year (how many drivers can say that?), and yet no full time sponsors were signing on to sponsor your car, please explain how you would handle things…

      …there is not much Matt Kenseth can do except what he’s been doing – racing well, winning, and not doing WWE – and he’s definitely contending for a Sprint Cup. No doubt, he’s not thrilled about Crown Royal leaving him, and DeWalt previously leaving him, and that’s got to perturb Jack Roush too – remember, Kenseth is the only current Roush racer to win a Cup with Roush (Kurt Busch won with Roush, but no longer races for Roush).

      I’ll remind you that a lot of teams are having sponsorship problems, and Crown Royal and DeWalt dropping Kenseth had nothing to do with his performance. Cup champions who are contending currently should not have sponsorship problems (Jeff Gordon’s problems, with DuPont cutting back its sponsorship, are indicative of a major problem with NASCAR and the economy).

      What I’d like to know is if DW would do any better than Kenseth in this economy, if DW was in the 17?