Driver Reports: Chase continues after shakeup
October 22, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Martinsville looms as drivers give chase; Johnson now in top spot
1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,254 points.
Last week: Johnson may not have made the biggest jump up the standings after Talladega, but he made the most important leap -- into first place. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finished 13th on Sunday, seven places above Matt Kenseth, and also earned two bonus points. He led a race-high 47 laps (and took the lead 10 different times), often working with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the front of the pack. Johnson now leads Matt Kenseth by four points heading into Martinsville, one of the 48 team's best tracks.
What he said: "You know, I feel that the races forward now are up to where the competitors go earn it. You don’t have this luck issue that can take place at plate tracks. So I am happy to have the points lead, and we went through a lot of work to get there. We just go racing from here and that is the thing I am most excited for."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Johnson has eight wins, 16 top-fives, 20 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Johnson ranks first out of 55 drivers with an average place of 5.9. He won the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Kenseth is second in the standings with 2,250 points.
Last week: For the first time since the 10-race Chase began, Kenseth exited a track without the series points lead. He was undone by a loose condition at Talladega that got so bad, the driver frantically radioed to his crew that he was going to crash if the car wasn't fixed. The ill-handling condition forced Kenseth to drive in the back of the pack until the final pit stop, when his car was serviced, but he couldn’t climb back up the pack. When the bottom row of cars never materialized on the final laps, he couldn't pass the drivers in front of him.
What he said: "Typically, handling is a non-issue here and we just got so loose I couldn't even hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs, which was disappointing. We finally got it fixed that last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there. I really needed to be up there like we were early and feel like I was controlling the race more -- the lanes and the runs and all that and I could never get back to there."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Kenseth has three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Kenseth ranks 16th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 16.9. He finished 14th in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Busch is third in the standings with 2,228 points.
Last week: Busch said he went into Talladega hoping to avoid the "Big One", which never actually materialized until a last-lap crash triggered by Austin Dillon and Casey Mears. Not only did Busch keep his car clean, he notched his second consecutive top-five finish at the fall Talladega race with a fifth-place run. 'Dega had been hit-or-miss for the No. 18 team. In the past six trips to the 2.66-mile track prior to Sunday, Busch had two top-fives and four finishes of 25th or worse. Finishing fifth allowed Busch to climb to third in the standings. The strong showing came despite Busch falling way behind early after his pit-road gaffe -- video of that incident is below.
What he said: "It was interesting that everybody stuck up on the outside that long and certainly that was the fastest way around. There wasn't anyone making up any time on the bottom. I figured that a lot of people would try to and be able to make up some time, but a couple tried and never made anything happen."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Busch has eight top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Busch ranks seventh out of 55 drivers with an average place of 13.5. He finished fifth in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)
Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 2,228 points.
Last week: Harvick had a strong Chevrolet, something that was a bit of question heading into the race. With qualifying rained out, the first practice session's speeds were used to set the lineup. Harvick didn't give too much away during that on-track time, finishing 33rd in that session. So he came off the grid 33rd Sunday, and was down to 40th place through 30 laps. In fact, the Richard Childress Racing driver barely got out of the 30s through 120 (of 188 laps). Then, he made his move, vaulting through the field to get up to seventh place before losing it all on the final pit stop and finishing 12th.
What he said: "We got ourselves in position to be where we needed to be at the end of the race. Coming to the last pit stop and then lost everything that we gained on the last pit stop again. We had a strategy that we stuck to and then we were just last off of pit road."
Outlook: In 24 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Harvick has one win, three top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Harvick ranks ninth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 14.0. He finished 13th in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
5. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Gordon is fifth in the standings with 2,220 points.
Last week: Gordon leaves Talladega fifth in the standings, down from fourth last week, but he actually gained two points on the leader. The 42-year-old led three laps Sunday and finished 14th for a 31-point day. He has a chance to gain even more ground at Martinsville, one of his best tracks. Then again, the paper-clip shaped track is also a favorite of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who has the points lead.
What he said: "It was a good day. I thought that the car was fantastic. I thought the team did an awesome job of executing our plan and we were in perfect position. And it just didn’t work out. I got kind of shoved on the back straightaway and was trying not to wreck and that got me out of a really good position and then we were kind of a sitting duck at that point and just went to the back and wanted to see what we could do with them on that final lap. And of course you know, a wreck is going to happen."
Outlook: In 41 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon has seven wins, 26 top-fives, 33 top-10s and seven poles. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Gordon ranks second out of 55 drivers with an average place of 6.2. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is sixth in the standings with 2,202 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. may have been the favorite to win as the laps ticked down. Sure, he wasn't leading -- it was Jamie McMurray running out front -- but running in second position at 'Dega is often a better spot than running first. Then the last-lap wreck happened early, with Casey Mears and Austin Dillon getting together. That tangle came before Junior had a chance to try and pass McMurray, relegating the driver to a second-place finish and leaving Junior Nation to wonder "What if." Earnhardt is featured in the post-race reactions video below.
What he said: "It's all kind of a blur as to how we ended up in second, but I had no reason to make a move before the last lap being in second place. I was in perfect position to be patient and wait as long as I wanted to. So that's why we didn't go any sooner than that. I just can't anticipate a caution coming out every single time we run at Talladega race on the last lap, so I just assumed it would go to checkered and was planning my move on the back straightaway."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has 10 top-fives and 14 top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr. ranks fourth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 11.0. He finished 24th in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
7. Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Biffle is seventh in the standings with 2,201 points.
Last week: Biffle's history on restrictor-plate racing is an interesting case study. The No. 16 Ford has been among the best on the circuit at Daytona, a 2.5-mile superspeedway. At 2.66-mile Talladega, however, he's worse than average throughout his career. Sunday, the Biff led five laps and finished 11th. He dropped one spot in the standings, but he's only one point behind sixth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. More importantly, at least for the driver, he kept his car clean. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We made it through, that is half the battle at this place. It was typical Talladega, we were up and then in the back and up and then in the back. At the end of the day, we missed the wreck and that is all I really care about."
Outlook: In 21 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Biffle has four top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Biffle ranks 21st out of 55 drivers with an average place of 21.2. He finished ninth in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)
Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 2,197 points.
Last week: Bowyer's goal at Talladega was apparent as soon as the green flag fell -- stay out of trouble. Starting 20th, the No. 15 Toyota dropped to the back of the field. When the early-race mega-wreck didn't happen, Bowyer puttered his way through the field, eventually getting to the front and leading two laps. As the final laps ticked off, Bowyer again fell back to try and avoid the "Big One." He eventually attempted to make his way back up, but was stuck in the single line. He went from 14th to 10th, though, on the last-lap wreck.
What he said: "Weird ending to the race. I could get up through them pretty easy all day until they went single file on us. My fault for waiting too long."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Bowyer has three top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Bowyer ranks sixth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 13.0. He finished second in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
9. Kurt Busch (No. 78)
Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Busch is ninth in the standings with 2,193 points.
Last week: Not only was Busch's car fast, it was … well, colorful. Sporting a Wonder Bread paint scheme, the No. 78 Chevrolet shed its familiar all-black look for a scheme made famous in the movie "Talladega Nights." The car ran up front for most of the afternoon, and was in the top five during its final green-lap pit stop on Lap 162. He merged back onto the track and got back up to 10th place, before getting shuffled to the back in the draft and finishing 18th.
What he said: "Restrictor-plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time. We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counts at the end we weren't there. I tried to make something happen, but couldn't get there."
Outlook: In 26 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Busch has one win, two top-fives, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Busch ranks 19th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 18.8. He finished 37th in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
10. Carl Edwards (No. 99)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Edwards is 10th in the standings with 2,186 points.
Last week: Perhaps no one was as frustrated at the tumultuous Talladega nature as Edwards. His No. 99 Ford was fast off the grid, where he started fifth, and took the lead on Lap 171. But getting shuffled to the back is part of the territory at the 2.66-mile monster, and that's what happened to Edwards. He finished 17th and remains in 10th place.
What he said: "I think that wreck at the end, there was a lot of stuff that was going to happen in the last half a lap but we didn't see it because of that wreck. We should have been a little better. We were leading with 10 or 15 to go and I thought we were in a really good spot and it just did not work out."
Outlook: In 18 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Edwards has one top-five and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Edwards ranks 14th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
11. Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Newman is 11th in the standings with 2,182 points.
Last week: For the fourth time in six Chase races, Newman finished in the top-10. In fact, his ninth-place effort at 'Dega made him one of just four Chase drivers to finish in the top 10. Newman is 11th in the standings despite those numbers because his worst postseason finish was 35th at Kansas, and he's still recovering from that showing. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "I rode around in the back all day basically just trying to keep my nose clean. I was waiting for something to happen the whole race, but it never really did except for that wreck on the last lap. That wasn't very much fun out there, though."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Newman has one win, seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Newman ranks 10th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 14.8. He finished 31st in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
12. Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Logano is 12th in the standings with 2,179 points.
Last week: Logano's spotter was working the radio furiously over the final laps, trying to find partners to jump down and form a bottom line. That never materialized, and the result was a 16th-place finish for Logano's second consecutive finish outside the top 15. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "That was a lot more conservative race than I think anyone ever thought. We all were racing pretty hard too. There were a few times when it looked like there was going to be a big crash and there never was. In the end though nobody wanted to go."
Outlook: In nine career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Logano has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Logano ranks 18th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 17.8. He finished 23rd in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.
13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,153 points.
Last week: One week after his best postseason showing, Kahne had another head-scratcher. His runner-up finish at Charlotte did not portend Talladega success. In fact, Kahne's 36th-place finish was the worst showing among the 13 Chase drivers. And it wasn't even his worst showing of the postseason, which is why Kahne remains 13th in the standings.
What he said: Kahne was unavailable for comment.
Outlook: In 19 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Kahne has three top-fives, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Martinsville, Kahne ranks 20th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 20.1. He finished fourth in the first 2013 race at Martinsville.