Driver Reports: Favorites tied; Gordon lurks
October 29, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Championship race intensifies following Martinsville; who has the edge in Texas?
1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,294 points.
Last week: Jimmie Johnson may be the Martinsville maestro, but the five-time champion was no doubt singing a different tune following Kenseth's runner-up finish Sunday. Kenseth completed perhaps his best run at the tricky 0.526-mile track, leading 202 (of 500) laps and earning 44 points on the day. He came to Virginia four points behind Johnson, and Martinsville is perhaps the best track on the circuit for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Forget ceding the lead late to Jeff Gordon -- leaving Martinsville tied at the top with Johnson is a perfect day for Kenseth.
What he said: "First of all, there is nothing to be disappointed about. Finishing second, but when you get the lead and you have it at the end and you don't win, you're always a little disappointed. I wish I could have done better. I just didn't have enough to hold off Jeff (Gordon). He's just too good."
Outlook: In 22 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, 12 top-fives and 15 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Kenseth ranks first out of 59 drivers with an average place of 9.3. He finished 12th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Johnson is second in the standings with 2,294 points.
Last week: Heading into Texas, Johnson will attempt to turn the tables on Kenseth. The No. 20 team gained points at Johnson's best track. Texas may not specifically be known Kenseth's best track -- as Martinsville is to Johnson -- but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver ranks first in the past eight years there with an average finish of 6.6. Johnson and Kenseth are tied at the top with three races to go, and Kenseth owns the tiebreaker due to having seven wins this season. Johnson left Martinsville with a fifth-place showing.
What he said: "It's been a great battle with the No. 20 car (of Kenseth) and the No. 24 (of Jeff Gordon) is really showing that he wants to be a part of this deal, as well; and there are some other guys back there kind of close. So, it's going to be a dogfight to the end. The way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that's exactly what the fans want to see. We'll keep digging hard."
Outlook: In 20 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson has two wins, nine top-fives, 15 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Johnson ranks third out of 59 drivers with an average place of 10.9. He finished sixth in the first 2013 race at Texas.
3. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Gordon is third in the standings with 2,267 points.
Last week: Gordon turned back time at Martinsville, earning his eighth grandfather clock at the oldest track on the circuit. It was also Gordon's 88th win at NASCAR's highest level, and his first of the season. What does all that mean? Well, with three races to go, Gordon -- who was added to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as an unprecedented 13th driver -- is just 27 points out of the lead. Watch his Victory Lane interview with NASCAR.com's Alan Cavanna below.
What he said: "Oh, my gosh. This meant so much. I feel like we've worked so hard, and many weekends we've left the race track looking at one another going, 'what do we have to do? ' We've had race cars, we've had pit stops, we've had strategy. I feel like I've had days where I've done my part but just couldn't get it all lined up. But we came into this race with a lot of confidence."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon has one win, eight top-fives, 11 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Gordon ranks 10th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 13.3. He finished 38th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)
Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 2,266 points.
Last week: Harvick's wild weekend at Martinsville ended with a respectable sixth-place finish. Truly, though, the driver of the No. 29 had a wacky three days in which he wrecked out of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race with Ty Dillon, then banged with Dillon under caution and then ripped the driver -- and team owner, Richard Childress -- in a post-race interview. Harvick apologized for his comments Sunday, and was likely glad to get back out on the track. In addition to nearly spinning Jimmie Johnson on a payback tap -- Johnson would apologize to the No. 29 team over the radio for inadvertently cutting Harvick off -- Harvick also got together with Ryan Newman, sending the Stewart-Haas Racing driver out of the race for a bit. See video of that incident below.
What he said: "It was interesting. We fought all day; got the nose banged up there and had a little leak in the radiator, so kind of nerve wracking there. They (Gil Martin, crew chief and pit crew) did a good job of adjusting the car to the little bang-up here. We came away for a solid day."
Outlook: In 21 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick has three top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Harvick ranks 15th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 15.2. He finished 13th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 2,258 points.
Last week: Busch dropped from third to fifth in the standings, and his championship hopes took a hit with his 15th-place showing at Martinsville. Busch started the day third and ran in the top 10 for the first 325 (of 500) laps. The many caution periods, though, led to some different strategies, and Busch pitted off-pace during one of those yellows. He was down to 20th through Lap 350, and although he chugged his way back up, his handling slipped enough for him to fall from eighth on Lap 400 to 15th on the checkered flag.
What he said: Busch was not available for comment.
Outlook: In 16 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch has one win, six top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Busch ranks fourth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 11.2. He won the first 2013 race at Texas.
6. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)
Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Bowyer is sixth in the standings with 2,239 points.
Last week: Bowyer had one of his best cars of the year Sunday. It didn't lead to his first victory of the season, but it led to one of his top showings of 2013. Bowyer's third-place effort at the paper-clip shaped track follows his runner-up showing in the spring race. The driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota has clearly got this place figured out. In fact, Bowyer almost made it back up to second when he charged at eventual runner-up Matt Kenseth over the final two laps. Kenseth maintained his position coming across the stripe, though.
What he said: "We were good, but we weren't good enough. This has been one of our best tracks. As good as we were in practice, we tried not to mess with it too much and we ended up too tight. I was just too bound up in the center of the corner. No excuses. We ran a good race, we worked hard -- got my car way better at the end. Just wasn't good enough."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Bowyer has three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Bowyer ranks ninth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 12.8. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in the standings with 2,238 points.
Last week: Junior was dejected following his eighth-place finish, mainly because he liked his No. 88 Chevrolet and thought he -- not Jeff Gordon, or perhaps Jimmie Johnson -- could have been the Hendrick Motorsports driver to visit Victory Lane. He stayed in the action, though, and by the end of the race, the nose of his car was torn up good. Junior now has three races left to get his first win of the season.
What he said: "We worked really, really hard all day and just … we had a decent car and didn't do everything exactly like we needed to. … I am really happy for my teammates when they do well, but right now we are just worried about ourselves. We have two or three races to go and we want to get as close as we can.”
Outlook: In 22 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one win, three top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Earnhardt Jr. ranks sixth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 11.9. He finished 29th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
8. Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Biffle is eighth in the standings with 2,236 points.
Last week: Biffle was angry despite his ninth-place showing at a track that doesn't fit his style. He angrily confronted Jimmie Johnson on pit road, yanking the driver around by the collar, after the many bumps on the track between the two. Biffle was peeved about his destroyed bumper, which was actually damaged on a bump from Dale Earnhardt Jr. During a late caution, NASCAR sent Biffle's No. 16 Ford into the pits to have the dangling bumper cover removed. The Biff came back out in 27th place with more than 100 laps remaining, and drove his way through the field. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We had a great 3M Ford Fusion. I just wish that wouldn't have happened (the rear bumper flapping forcing him to pit road). We had a top-five car here today, but that's like our fourth or fifth top-10 in a row so I'm pretty happy."
Outlook: In 19 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Biffle has two wins, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Biffle ranks seventh out of 59 drivers with an average place of 12.3. He finished fourth in the first 2013 race at Texas.
9. Kurt Busch (No. 78)
Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Busch is ninth in the standings with 2,219 points.
Last week: A listen to Busch's scanner during Sunday's race provided all you need to know about his Martinsville history. The driver struggles here, and his conversations were laced with sarcasm. Finishing 18th -- 11th out of 13 Chase drivers -- leaves the Furniture Row Racing driver ninth in the standings. He didn't leave with a clean car, either, as contact with Jamie McMurray led to the 78 looping itself around and getting drilled by Mark Martin in the 14. Video of that incident is below.
What he said: "We didn't qualify well, didn't practice well and obviously didn't race well today. I don't know what it is but there's something about this track that doesn't suit me. A very disappointing performance today. For a Chase team, we should have been much better."
Outlook: In 21 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch has one win, three top-fives and 12 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Busch ranks 14th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 14.7. He finished 37th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
10. Carl Edwards (No. 99)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Edwards is 10th in the standings with 2,218 points.
Last week: In a race with 17 cautions, Edwards brought out the first one just seven laps in when he nudged Jeff Burton's No. 31 out of the way, causing a spin. Video of that incident is below. Edwards apologized to Burton's team, and issued another apology when he spun out Travis Kvapil on Lap 88. Eventually, Edwards nursed his No. 99 Ford to a 12th-place finish, and he's now one point behind ninth-place Kurt Busch.
What he said: "It was kind of wild because there were a lot of cautions, so that gave us the opportunity to get our laps back and things like that, but if you didn't take tires when you needed to it was rough. There was just a lot of strategy to it. It was a really tough race. I caused the first two cautions when the car was real hard to drive on entry, so that was pretty frustrating. I felt bad about that."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards has three wins, six top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Edwards ranks fifth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 11.9. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Texas.
11. Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Logano is 11th in the standings with 2,209 points.
Last week: Logano's name wasn't mentioned much during Sunday's race. The No. 22 Ford stayed out of trouble, but he didn't exactly surge to the front, either. After qualifying sixth, Logano finished 14th. Ryan Newman's poor showing enabled Logano to move up one spot in the standings. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "About halfway through the race we got off sequence with our pit stops and that really hurt us. We got stuck out on the track with older tires and never got the yellow flag that we thought would come. So we fell back and lost all of our track position and spent the rest of the day trying to get it back."
Outlook: In 10 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Logano has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Logano ranks 28th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 22.2. He finished fifth in the first 2013 race at Texas.
12. Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Newman is 12th in the standings with 2,188 points.
Last week: Newman's fall down the standings continued at Martinsville, although it was hardly his fault. The No. 39 Chevrolet was sent spinning after contact with Kevin Harvick, something for which Harvick would apologize. The damage was done though -- literally -- as Newman took his car behind the wall. He finished 38th and completed 432 of 500 laps. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "That was a pretty unfortunate end to our day. We didn't start out the day too strong, but once we had track position, I felt like we had a chance to come out of it with a good finish. It's unfortunate, but we can't do anything about it now. We'll go on to Texas next week and hopefully get a good finish there."
Outlook: In 20 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Newman has one win, three top-fives, four top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Newman ranks 22nd out of 59 drivers with an average place of 20.8. He finished 10th in the first 2013 race at Texas.
13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,170 points.
Last week: Kahne was involved in a wreck with Denny Hamlin, among others, that sent his No. 5 Chevrolet spinning into the grass. In a fitting bit of irony, Kahne's car got stuck and needed a boost to get back out on the track. The same can be said for Kahne's 2013 Chase races -- he's been going nowhere. He salvaged a 27th-place finish, but is now 18 points behind 12th-place Ryan Newman. Video of the wreck is below.
What he said: Kahne was unavailable for comment.
Outlook: In 18 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Kahne has one win, four top-fives, five top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Kahne ranks 16th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 15.4. He finished 11th in the first 2013 race at Texas.