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Wild-card contenders have a bad day

June 18, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Wild-card contenders have a bad day
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Accident, engine problems and poor handling keep drivers from gaining ground

An unusual weekend at Michigan International Speedway did nothing but add to the woes of the teams battling for the two wild-card spots in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Of the four one-win drivers outside of the top 10 in points, only Ryan Newman made it to the finish unscathed, winding up 15th after an engine change forced him to start at the back of the field. Two others -- Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne -- were caught up in an accident, and Kyle Busch had engine issues for the third consecutive week.

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Things weren't that much better for two winless drivers hoping to work their way into the top 10. Carl Edwards struggled with an ill-handling car to finish 11th. Paul Menard raced just outside the top 10 for most of the afternoon but faded badly during the final green-flag run, winding up 22nd.

The last-minute decision to switch to a harder left-side tire compound played a factor in nearly every instance. For Newman, a two-time Michigan winner, the additional mileage brought about by a surprise Saturday evening practice -- on top of a Thursday test session and two Friday practices -- led to an issue with his primary engine.

However, the backup motor appeared to be as good, if not better, as he charged from 42nd to 19th within five laps. Newman eventually worked his way to sixth. But as the race wore on, his tires wore out.

"We blistered a right rear earlier in the race, and I thought I had another one blistering," Newman said. "I did, but not as bad as I thought. You get a blistered tire like that, and then you get a vibration later, [and] it just kind of destroys your confidence."

Worried about the tires, Newman came in for an unscheduled pit stop and lost a lap to the leaders just past the halfway point. He eventually got it back on a wave-around but spent the rest of the race just trying to hang on to a car that wasn't handling well.

"I'm really proud of the effort the guys made [Sunday]," Newman said. "They worked their butts off this weekend, and while we weren't able to complete our mission of winning the race, we were able to salvage a decent finish."

Logano, coming off a win at Pocono, was running in the top five for much of the first quarter of the race. But he picked up a bad vibration around Lap 81 and made an emergency stop for new tires, as he had blistered the right front.

He worked his way back into the top 10, but following a restart on Lap 126, Logano swerved to miss the slower car of David Gilliland and lost control, slamming into the outside wall. Kahne, who was trailing both cars, drilled Gilliland from behind.

Video: Logano, Kahne collected in wreck

"There was a slower car in front of us and [Matt Kenseth] was right in front of me," Logano said. "We were all trying to turn down underneath him, and [I] tried to turn down underneath him and just got loose. I thought I had it saved and overcorrected and went in the wall."

Logano's day was done, but Kahne was able to return to the track for several more laps after extensive repairs. Logano finished 35th and Kahne wound up 33rd.

Like Newman, Busch found himself deep in the field at the drop of the green flag. He made up 20 positions in the first 20 laps and was running fifth by Lap 30. However, Busch began having handling issues and scraped the outside wall just before NASCAR officials called for the second of two competition cautions.

Busch pitted three times in an effort to make repairs, but within 30 laps, he was forced to head for the garage with yet another engine issue. The crew was able to get him back out, but Busch lost 43 laps and finished 32nd. Combined with his 29th-place finish at Dover and 30th at Pocono, Busch is now 26 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski.

Edwards' troubles began during qualifying Saturday, when fuel pickup problems caused him to abort his attempt, and continued throughout Sunday's race.

He never was able to find a comfortable setup, despite using pit strategy to get himself into the top 10 as of Lap 120. He faded outside of the top 10, but picked up a few positions in the final green-flag run as other cars had tire blister problems.

"We were just too loose all day," Edwards said. "I am talking loose. That is as hard as I can drive, and [crew chief Bob Osborne] and I just didn't pick the right setup for the race.

"We didn't expect it to be that loose. It wasn't a terrible day for some of the fighting and wiggling we were doing out there. It was crazy, and I am glad we finished in one piece and got a decent day."