Edwards cuts into Johnson's lead; Kenseth rejoins top five
1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 538 points.
Last week: For once, things didn’t go Johnson’s way. A unique pit strategy that didn’t quite work out the way crew chief Chad Knaus envisioned resulted in Johnson chasing leader Greg Biffle in the waning laps. Johnson’s car was a rocket, and he picked his way through the field, but by driving it so hard he busted his right-front tire with less than five laps remaining. Going from second place to 28th (and one lap down) was a precipitous points drop, and Johnson’s 51-point lead over Carl Edwards was sliced to 31 after Five-Time’s worst points day of the year.
What he said: “It’s just a bummer. We had a great race car. Our strategy was throwing some challenges at us today and we just struggled with maintaining track position. But we had a fast car and I could drive up through there and as soon as I’d get to first or second, a caution would come out and then something would happen again and we’d lose track position. But we had a great race car and I hate having that problem at the end.”
This week: In 11 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Johnson has one win, four top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Johnson ranks sixth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 12.7.
Last year: Johnson’s background lends itself well to road courses, and the five-time champion has been successful recently on the 1.99-mile winding road course in Northern California. Johnson recorded his fourth consecutive top-five last year, finishing fifth. The No. 48 started third and was never lower than fourth until the green-white-checkered finish, which came as the team -- unnecessarily -- fretted about being out of fuel on the final lap.
2. Carl Edwards (No. 99)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Edwards is second in the standings with 507 points.
Last week: At first, it appeared that Edwards -- not Greg Biffle -- would be the driver to claim Ford’s 1,000th win in NASCAR. After all, Edwards started on the pole, had a fast No. 99 and led 16 laps. An ill-timed caution, though, was bad luck for Edwards. The yellow came as he was leaving his pit stall after he pitted on green, and it put the driver in 25th place with 30 laps to go at the 2-mile track. Edwards was running in the top five when he pitted, and was forced to rally for an eighth-place showing. Edwards’ day also included a barb thrown at Biffle, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, over his radio.
What he said: “I think seeing those Fords up front today really was a statement that we’re moving in the right direction. There’s a lot of momentum and for us this is good. We need to get better and faster to be able to compete, especially with the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) right now in the Chase. Hopefully this is a turn in the right direction.”
This week: In eight career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Edwards has one top-five and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Edwards ranks 10th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 16.0.
Last year: Some cars did better than others in the 82-lap green-flag stretch to open the race. Edwards’ No. 99 wasn’t so hot. He slipped from 11th on the grid to 24th through 80 laps and finished 21st. Sonoma isn’t a great track for Edwards, but still, it was a disappointing finish on the heels of his career-best third-place showing in 2011.
3. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)
Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Bowyer is third in the standings with 489 points.
Last week: It’s starting to look like this could be a special year for Bowyer. The No. 15 team is still searching for its first victory, but Sunday’s effort at Michigan was among the best of the season. Bowyer finished seventh after starting 27th and falling to 37th by Lap 10 (of 200). It's three consecutive seventh-place finishes at Michigan for Bowyer, who has five consecutive top-10s at the track.
What he said: “That was a crazy day. We got off to a rough start … we worked on it all day long and made the absolute best of the situation we were in. All in all it turned out to be a pretty decent points day for us. Not the way we would have drawn it up, but I’ll take it.”
This week: In seven career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Bowyer has one win, four top-fives and five top-10s. He is the defending race champion. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Bowyer ranks eighth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 14.6.
Last year: The affable Bowyer, for once, nearly found himself at a loss for words. After taking a risk (at the time) and signing with Michael Waltrip Racing before the season, the No. 15 driver earned his first win with his new team in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. In his first victory of the season, Bowyer led 71 laps, including the final 39. He held off both Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart during the green-white-checkered finish for the sixth win of his Sprint Cup career.
4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)
Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 476 points.
Last week: Harvick continued his assault on the standings with a runner-up finish at Michigan. True, he ceded second place to hard-charging Jimmie Johnson late, but the 48 team had a major car problem when it mattered most; the No. 29 didn’t. In the past seven races, Harvick has four top-fives and six top-10s and, during that same period, has gone from 14th in the standings to fourth.
What he said: “It’s just one of those days where you had to survive. You had to try to keep your track position the best that you could. You had to manage tires and get them on the car because people were having a lot of trouble. So it's definitely one of those races where you had to manage numerous amounts of things to keep yourself in it.”
This week: In 12 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Harvick has three top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Harvick ranks ninth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 15.3.
Last year: Harvick is an interesting Sonoma study. He finished 16th last year, breaking a two-year streak of top-10s. He’s finished 30 or worse twice, but not since 2008. He qualified fourth in 2010 and finished third. He qualified 26th in 2011 and finished ninth, then qualified 26th again last year. Long story short, Harvick is a mystery man at the 1.99-mile course.
5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Kenseth is fifth in the standings with 456 points.
Last week: Sixth-place was a fine finish for Kenseth, who hadn’t finished inside the top 10 since his victory on May 11 at Darlington. Still, it could have been better. His No. 20 Toyota was running well and, on the final restart with 27 laps to go, Kenseth was fourth and in the high lane. He gunned forward and seemed to be in position to pass his way to second, but was forced to slow down by a barreling Martin Truex Jr. on the low side. Kenseth fell back to 13th, but recovered.
What he said: “We fought it a little bit -- the Hendrick cars had everybody covered. Other than them, I thought if we had the car just perfect that we had enough speed to have a shot at the win.”
This week: In 13 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Kenseth has one top-10. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Kenseth ranks 21st out of 48 drivers with an average place of 18.8.
Last year: Kenseth was close to notching just his second top-10 at Sonoma. He started ninth and ran in the top 10 for the first half the race, but slipped after the first round of pit stops and finished 13th.
6. Kyle Busch (No. 18)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Busch is sixth in the standings with 452 points.
Last week: Busch’s No. 18 Toyota wasn’t great on restarts, but it was good in most other aspects. Combine that with sound pit strategy, and the driver was happy with a fourth-place finish at a track where he’s not particularly strong. Although Busch won in 2011 at Michigan, he finished 32nd and 13th the past two races there. Fourth was as high as Busch ran all day.
What he said: “We made a lot of big swings at it. There were a lot of adjustments there, and the guys did good. Pit stops were good, so it was a good, solid fourth. We probably could have been better if we got better track position on restarts, but I had such a hard time getting into the corners behind people and protecting what I had on restarts, so people would get by me for a couple laps.”
This week: In eight career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Busch has one win, one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Busch ranks 19th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 18.1.
Last year: In a somewhat forgettable showing at Sonoma, Busch started seventh and finished 17th. It was his second-best showing there since his victory in 2008.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in the standings with 447 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. is the perfect example when describing Hendrick Motorsports’ day. His car was phenomenal. His finish was miserable. Junior led 34 laps at the track where he last won, but started losing speed around Lap 130 (of 200). He appeared to drop a cylinder; then his engine blew up. From a possible victory to an eight-point day, Earnhardt fell three spots in the standings. He finished in 37th-place … just above teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon.
What he said: “(It’s) worse than if it happens when you’re running in the back. I’m real proud of the car. We were really struggling in practice and I’m just real proud of (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and the whole team. They made a lot of great changes. And that car was just flying at the end there. I don’t know if we had as good a car as Jimmie (Johnson), but we had certainly made some gains on it, even in the last stop.”
This week: In 13 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Earnhardt’s best finish is 11th in 2003, 2004 and 2010. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Earnhardt ranks 26th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 23.7.
Last year: By his own admission, Earnhardt Jr. isn’t the best road-course racer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He’s probably not even in the middle. That’s what made last year’s 23rd-place finish so frustrating. Earnhardt was up to 12th place before a green-white-checkered finish and felt like he had a car that would challenge for his first-ever top-10 at the track. But a late-race incident resulted in several cars wrecking, and Junior was hit and spun into the dirt, where he was walloped by Aric Almirola (who had no visibility coming over the hill).
8. Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Biffle is eighth in the standings with 443 points.
Last week: Biffle earned his first victory of the year, and his second consecutive win at the track, to land solidly in the top 10 of the points standings. He also won the 1,000th NASCAR race for manufacturer Ford, which has struggled this season, and led 48 laps. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “You know, we certainly didn't probably have the fastest car today at times and kept working on it. It's been well documented that we feel like we've been a little bit behind this season. We've been gaining on it. We've probably gotten a little more than we deserved the past two weeks with a second and a win, but we certainly have gotten much, much better.”
This week: In 10 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Biffle has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Biffle ranks 17th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 17.6.
Last year: Biffle is much better on 1.5-mile tracks than he is on road courses, so he was pleased with his team’s second seventh-place showing in the past three years. Biffle started fourth and slipped to 20th by Lap 70, but his car was finely tuned during his second and final pit stop, sending him back up the field.
9. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)
Penske Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Keselowski is ninth in the standings with 430 points.
Last week: Keselowski felt his car was better than the final results indicated, although the No. 2 Ford finished 12th at his home track. Still, the driver was disappointed. Keselowski is from Michigan, and this was his hometown race. He was also in the top five with 10 laps to go but lost ground after losing a fuel gamble. He was able to putter across the finish line, but he lost some ground when his tank went dry.
What he said: “We didn’t need a full tank, but we did need more than what we would get in it on a two-tire stop. There was just a mix-up in communication. It’s unfortunate because in looking at the finishing order, I think we could’ve brought the Miller Lite Ford home in the third or fourth position. I was almost able to save enough fuel as it was, but we needed just another half of a gallon or so.”
This week: In three career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Keselowski has one top-10. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Keselowski ranks 15th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 17.1.
Last year: Keselowski was eyeing his second career top-10 at the track, but the first round of pit stops produced an error from which he could not recover. The No. 2 team was slow in getting to pit, and Keselowski stalled his car while leaving the pit box. He took blame for that error, but extended green-flag runs didn’t give him a great opportunity to gain ground. Still, the soon-to-be NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finished 12th after falling to 25th after his gaffe.
10. Tony Stewart (No. 14)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Stewart is 10th in the standings with 417 points.
Last week: Stewart’s No. 14 team has been gritty throughout the season. Now it’s getting a bit of luck, too. The driver brought home a fifth-place finish at Michigan, despite not having a fifth-place car. Stewart is now in the top 10 in the standings and, should he fall out, has a win to fall back on in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “We really weren’t a fifth-place car. But we had some breaks go our way. A caution came out at the right time and we got a good restart and two of the guys ahead of us, one had fuel trouble and one had a problem. So, we got some breaks going our way.”
This week: In 14 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Stewart has two wins, five top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Stewart ranks second out of 48 drivers with an average place of 9.9.
Last year: Stewart’s strategy of being patient paid off, resulting in a second-place finish. It was Stewart’s third career second-place showing at Sonoma, and this one came after the second-worst start of his career at the track -- 24th. ‘Smoke’ had just cracked the top five by Lap 100 (of 112), and gained spots after being bunched up for the green-white-checkered finish. On the final lap, he maneuvered low on the track to pass Kurt Busch on Turn 11 to take second.
11. Paul Menard (No. 27)
Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Menard is 11th in the standings with 415 points.
Last week: Welcome back to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, Paul Menard -- for now. One week after dropping out of the field, the driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet is back in following a 14th-place effort at Michigan. If he’s as consistent as he has been this entire season (no DNFs), Menard has a shot at NASCAR’s postseason. But he must root for race winners Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart to stay in the top 10 of the points standings.
What he said: “We had a fast CertainTeed/Menards Chevrolet at the start of the race and began to battle handling issues as the laps wore on. We got caught behind later when the caution came out after we had just pitted under green-flag conditions and had to restart at the tail end of the lead pack. I have to give my guys credit, they never gave up and we were able to fight back and come home with a top-15 finish.”
This week: In five career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Menard’s best finish is 17th in 2011. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Menard ranks 27th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 24.5.
Last year: Sonoma is unkind to Menard, who has finished inside the top 20 twice in five tries. One of those came last year, when Menard finished 20th.
12. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Kahne is 12th in the standings with 407 points.
Last week: When drivers were asked about the best cars in the field after Sunday’s race, the No. 5 Chevrolet came up often. Unfortunately for Kahne, who led 14 laps, he cut a tire on Lap 102, sending him hard into the Turn 2 wall. Kahne was OK, but his car burst into flames and was clearly unsalvageable. It’s been that way throughout the season for Kahne, who has five top-fives, but also four races where he earned less than 10 points. His seven-point day at Michigan came on the heels of an eight-point day at Pocono. Kahne does have a win at Bristol to fall back on, though.
What he said: “No, I had no indication (of trouble). We were just cruising. We had a really good Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. I knew it was going to be a battle with Jimmie (Johnson) today. He’s fast and I thought we were really good.”
This week: In nine career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Kahne has one win, two top-fives, two top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Kahne ranks 11th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 16.9.
Last year: Kahne’s two top-fives came in back-to-back years: 2009 and 2010. The past two years, he’s been outside the top 10. He finished 14th in 2012.
Five in the rearview mirror …
Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)
Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 13th in the standings with 405 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. has been like a ping-pong ball lately. He’s bounced all around the standings, but is actually close to a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Truex Jr. held off several challengers on the final restart and finished third at Michigan. The 41-point day vaulted him four spots in the standings. It’s a great battle worth watching, too. Truex is 10 points behind 11th-place Paul Menard, tied with 14th-place Joey Logano and one point ahead of 15th-place Aric Almirola. None of those drivers has a win this year, either.
This week: In seven career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Truex Jr. has one top-10. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Truex Jr. ranks 18th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 18.0.
Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Logano is 14th in the standings with 405 points.
Last week: Logano recorded his fifth consecutive top-10 showing Sunday, finishing ninth at Michigan. He also led 21 laps and climbed another two spots in the points standings. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
This week: In four career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Logano has two top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Logano ranks 12th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 16.9.
Aric Almirola (No. 43)
Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford
Where he stands: Almirola is 15th in the standings with 404 points.
Last week: It wasn’t a great day for Almirola. Driving the No. 43 Ford, Almirola started fifth on the grid but finished 17th. He was in the top 15 most of the day, and a late-race accident dented the nose of his car.
This week: In two career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Almirola finished 28th in 2008 and 2012. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Almirola ranks 41st out of 48 drivers with an average place of 31.4.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolett
Where he stands: Gordon is 16th in the standings with 398 points.
Last week: Gordon lost the momentum he so carefully crafted heading in Michigan. A wreck with Bobby Labonte, who simply spun out, happened just four laps into the race. Gordon’s No. 24 team diligently worked on his machine, and got it in condition to go out and log another 40-plus laps to gain four spots in the day’s results. Maybe those extra four points will help Gordon down the road.
This week: In 20 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Gordon has five wins, 12 top-fives, 16 top-10s and five poles. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Gordon ranks fifth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 12.4.
Kurt Busch (No. 78)
Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Busch is 20th in the standings with 384 points.
Last week: Much like Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch’s goodwill evaporated into the warm Michigan air. The driver had one of the fastest cars of the weekend and led the first 21 laps of the race after starting second. In fourth place following the first round of pit stops, Busch’s car simply got loose, sending him spinning into the Turn 2 wall. His day basically over -- although he took his battered No. 78 Chevrolet out for a few late laps -- Busch finished 35th.
This week: In 12 career starts at Sonoma Raceway, Busch has one win, five top-fives, five top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Sonoma, Busch ranks first out of 48 drivers with an average place of 9.1.