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Drivers: Make Bristol Night Race A Chase Race

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 26 2013

Bristol racing took a toll on cars and radically altered the point standings on Saturday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Bristol Motor Speedway’s August race should be one of the 10 Chase races, not before it, says Kurt Busch and after Saturday’s 500-lap race most of those vying for a coveted spot in NASCAR’s playoffs would probably agree.

By the time the checkered flag waved, Matt Kenseth had become the season’s top race winner and positions eight through14 in the standings had changed, as had one of the drivers eligible for the two wildcard positions. And with just 42 points separating eight through 15 with two races remaining before the Chase begins, the standings could shuffle again.

“I’m not always a huge believer in momentum as far as just looking at paper and looking at finishes, but I am a believer in momentum as far as performance, and I think this weekend was huge for us,” said Kenseth, who last won at Kentucky in June. “Even if we would have ran second and got beat at the end, I think it would have been still a really … at least for me, it would have been a very encouraging weekend; it would have been a shot in our arm, like man, we had all our speed back. We led some laps. We haven’t really led multiple laps since Kentucky. So the whole weekend for me was really encouraging from a team standpoint.”

Even though Kenseth is sixth in the standings, his five victories this season have guaranteed him a position in the Chase. The only two other drivers who have clinched a Chase position are Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer. Kenseth, however, would be the top seed in the Chase even though Johnson currently leads Bowyer by 18 points in the standings. That’s because Johnson has one less victory than Kenseth.

Bowyer said it meant “a lot” to be locked in the Chase, but he was still disappointed at his 14th-place finish “because we had a really good car.”

“Absolutely nothing really went our way all night,” said Bowyer, who got spun by a lapped car while he was leading on lap 176.

And that was the basis for Busch’s belief as to why Bristol should be in the Chase, not before it. So the track that bills

Might Bristol serve the sport better as a Chase race? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

itself as “The Last Great Coliseum” wouldn’t adversely affect those drivers on the edge who needed a good, consistent run just to gain a Chase berth. Ironically, Busch was one of those drivers and he stumbled. Entering Saturday night’s race Busch was ninth in the standings; however, he fell to 12th due to a right-rear hub failure that relegated him to a 31st-place finish.

An eight-car crash with 53 laps remaining, also contributed to the standings shuffle. It dropped the defending champion but winless Brad Keselowski from eighth to 11th in the standings. The wreck also relegated Martin Truex Jr. from 12th to 14th in the points, but he managed to hold on to a wildcard berth due to his victory at Sonoma.

Joey Logano moved up to 10th in the standings with a fifth-place finish, thus opening the wildcard door for Newman, even though he, too, was in the multi-car crash and had to settle for 21st after running in the top 10 for most of the night.

“This is the hardest fought top five I’ve ever had in my life,” Logano said. “We had a right-front knocked in once. We got blocked in by the 11 [Denny Hamlin] once. We got a piece of garbage on the front. Every time this happened we had to go all the way to the back, so we came from the back three times to get a top-five finish.”

Kahne’s runner-up finish to Kenseth for the third time this season catapulted him from 11th to eighth in the standings, while Greg Biffle advanced once position to ninth. Jeff Gordon moved up to 13th from 14th with his seventh-place finish, but he’s still winless.

“Every team is worried and concerned,” Keselowski said. “If you’re not in right now, I don’t care if you’re running eighth or you’re running 13th, every team is worried and concerned — not just mine. We’ve got two races left. I feel like this is gonna come down to the last lap at Richmond and I’m ready for that battle.”

And with the numerous teams that are testing at Richmond, his fellow competitors apparently share the same opinion.

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

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 26 2013
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