Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 29 -- "Tighten Up"

The third race in the “Chase for the Championship” is where the picture starts to develop a sharper focus. For Tony Stewart (-162) in 10th, Matt Kenseth (-165) nothing short of a miraculous finish could put them on the road to being back in the hunt. Clint Bowyer suffering the 150 point penalty is already finished. Greg Biffle at -140 is also under the gun. The remainder of the field is within 83 points of the lead starting with Jeff Gordon in 8th place. It’s surely not lost on anyone that Jimmie Johnson is in second closing in fast with just a -35 point deficit. Trying to pick likely contenders who could possibly ruin Johnson’s chances at a 5th consecutive championship is no easy task. The two Gibbs entries surely would be good bets if it were not for the races where they’ve had hardware failure. Kurt Busch, 4th in the standings is a former champ. Kevin Harvick sits -65 points back, but he sure did not position himself well in getting ready for Kansas. Beyond that, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, and Jeff Gordon have not won a single race between them this year. Roush has only one victory which makes it even tougher for Edwards.

Here’s how “The Chase” participants qualified.

3—Jeff Gordon (8th)
5 – Greg Biffle (9th)
8 – Matt Kenseth (11th)
9 – Kurt Busch (4th)
12 – Denny Hamlin (1st)
14 – Tony Stewart (10th)
19 – Kyle Busch (3rd)
21 – Jimmie Johnson (2nd)
23 – Jeff Burton (7th)
24 – Kevin Harvick (5th)
27 – Clint Bowyer (12th)
31 – Carl Edwards (6th)

Final practice results:

2—Jimmie Johnson
3—Greg Biffle
5—Jeff Gordon
7—Carl Edwards
9—Clint Bowyer
12—Matt Kenseth
13—Kurt Busch
14 – Kyle Busch
17—Jeff Burton
19—Denny Hamlin
23—Tony Stewart
24—Kevin Harvick
Looking at the results comparing qualifying to final practice, what may be lost on starting position could well be made of by solid race track performance. If Carl Edwards, for instance, can move up through the field, without an incident, he could be right in the thick of competition after a couple of pit stops. Clint Bowyer shows similar improvements. One has to wonder what’s behind the lackluster performance of Kevin Harvick who is deep in the middle of the pack for starting position and practice. He’ll have to crank it up to be a force in tomorrow’s race.

The front row is all a Richard Petty Racing deal (both drivers will be elsewhere next year), Kasey Kahne holds the poll and Paul Menard rides on the outside. Both teams would get a huge boost with a strong performance in Kansas. Also noteworthy is part-timer, former champ, Bill Elliott qualifying just outside the top 10 in 11th for the “legendary” Wood Brothers team.

There is some justice in qualifying results this week, the three teams who failed to make the race are the most flagrant and persistent “Start and Park” participants, both Prism entries #55, Mike Bliss, and #66, Jason Leffler. Joe Nemechek also failed to make the race. The good news is no team, fully sponsored seeking to compete got pushed aside by the quitter cretins. Still, there are several teams likely to call it quits early on, #64, #13, #36, #7 and #71.

While Kansas certainly doesn’t come to mind as one of the big time venues for Sprint Cup competition, tomorrow’s race will surely do much to determine the outcome of “The Chase.” Other teams will be working hard auditioning for rides and sponsors for 2011.

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