News & Media


Post-Sonoma Driver Reports

June 24, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Post-Sonoma Driver Reports
Top five remains unchanged; Keselowski inches closer to Chase fringe

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 573 points.
Last week: It was another top-10 for Johnson -- nothing to see here, folks – this weekend at Sonoma, but the big-picture story isn’t quite as rosy. Sure, Johnson is tied for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead in wins. And he’s still No. 1 in the standings, too. But his titanic 50-plus point lead over second-place Carl Edwards two weeks ago is down to 25. Johnson’s Chase hopes are in no danger, but it could get interesting if the lead continues to shrink as his wife gets closer to giving birth to the couple’s second child.
What he said: “I’m happy we kept the points lead. I wish we could have contended for the win there at the end, but it’s always a good day when you come out with a top-10 finish at this track.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Johnson has one top-five, two top-10s and one pole. In the past two years at Kentucky, Johnson ranks third out of 45 drivers with an average place of 4.6.
Last year: Johnson was the worst finisher among the four Hendrick Motorsports cars. A bad night? Hardly. It was a classic Hendrick showing in Kentucky, with Johnson coming home with a sixth-place finish. Five-Time is one of just five drivers to have top-10s in both of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ races at Kentucky Speedway.

2. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is second in the standings with 548 points.
Last week: Edwards’ work and testing on road courses is paying off. Not known as a road-course warrior, the driver of the No. 99 Ford came home with a third-place finish. That included surviving a dust-up with Kyle Busch, which sent the No. 18 spinning off course on Lap 83 (of 110). Edwards soldiered on and tied his career-best finish at the track.
What he said: “It was a real battle and I feel really bad about the incident with Kyle back there. We were racing really hard and I got to the inside of him and I took a gamble that he knew I was there. His spotter called it and I backed out as hard as I could and ended up wrecking him, but I had a lot of fun racing with him.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Edwards has one top-five and one top-10. In the past two years at Kentucky, Edwards ranks fifth out of 45 drivers with an average place of 9.7.
Last year: Edwards and his team gambled at Kentucky. The No. 99 team needed a win to cement its status in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and Edwards worked his way in position to challenge for just that after starting 25th. So running second in the waning laps, he stayed out on the track as long as possible. The hope was that Edwards had enough fuel to get a top-five finish even while driving conservatively. It was a massive mistake. Edwards had to bring his Ford into pit road with four laps remaining for a splash and go. He went from running in the top five to finishing 20th and one lap down.

3. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is third in the standings with 528 points.
Last week: Bowyer stayed within shouting distance of Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards at Sonoma. Although he was angling for his second consecutive victory at the track, Bowyer was content with a fifth-place effort, especially because he was 18th with 20 laps to go on the 1.99-mile road course.
What he said: “It was a good run. I felt like -- I still think we had the fastest car -- it’s just that jinx, man. That’s where it’s at -- nine different winners (consecutively at Sonoma). I was trying to be patient in traffic. I knew my strong point was long runs and we just never got that opportunity to showcase.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Bowyer’s best finish is 16th in 2012. In the past two years at Kentucky, Bowyer ranks 22nd out of 45 drivers with an average place of 19.5.
Last year: Bowyer was in the wrong place at the wrong time with less than 100 laps to go at Kentucky. Running in the top 10, Bowyer was driving down on the inside. He was hit hard when Ryan Newman bumped Joey Logano up top, sending Logano and his No. 20 into Bowyer’s No. 15. Bowyer managed to not wreck his vehicle, and after some quick work, he was back on the track. His shot at a top-10 was over, but Bowyer still finished 16th.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 510 points.
Last week: Harvick extended his top-10 streak to six consecutive races -- a series best -- by finishing 10th at Sonoma. Harvick was continually outside the top 20 on restarts due to varying pit strategies, but he didn’t have any issues picking his way through the field. His lead over fifth-place Matt Kenseth stretched to 29 points.
What he said: “This wasn't the finish we were looking for, but the team did a great job getting us into the position we needed to be at the end to collect a solid finish.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Harvick’s best finish is 11th in 2012. In the past two years at Kentucky, Harvick ranks eighth out of 45 drivers with an average place of 12.3.
Last year: Harvick went through the wringer in a not-uncommon issue that plagues drivers during night races. At first, Harvick -- who started fourth -- was tight. So his team tried a combination of changes during pit stops and got the No. 29 Chevrolet in good shape. Then the sun set, the track cooled off, and all those improvements actually became hindrances. It seemed like Harvick was getting major work done in pit road all night on the way to an 11th-place finish.

5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is fifth in the standings with 481 points.
Last week: Kenseth isn’t a Sonoma star by any means, so it was a bit surprising to see his performance on the track before the race. In the No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth posted the 13th-fastest time during the second practice for the event and then qualified sixth in the new road-course qualifying rules. The speed carried over to the race, but as is so often the case in road racing, Kenseth was forced to conserve fuel over the final laps. He finished 19th, his fifth consecutive showing outside the top-10 at the track. Kenseth remains fifth in the standings, ensuring the top five didn’t change from last week.
What he said: “What’s challenging about Sonoma compared to other tracks is everything. It’s absolutely different -- there are elevation changes, a lot of different turns with different radiuses, and it’s just totally different than anywhere else we go.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Kenseth has two top-10s. In the past two years at Kentucky, Kenseth ranks sixth out of 45 drivers with an average place of 9.9.
Last year: In seventh place, Kenseth was the highest finishing Ford last year (remember, he drove for Roush Fenway Racing at the time). Considering Kenseth started 20th and had handling problems, he was pleased with his second top-10 in two races at Kentucky.

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 479 points.
Last week: Biffle’s growth on road courses shined through with an eighth-place finish. It’s his third top-10 in the past four races at Sonoma, and it vaults him to sixth in the standings. Two weeks ago, Biffle was out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picture. Now, he’s ensconced in the top 10 and has a win to fall back on as well. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “It was a great day. We could have been a little bit better, but I’m happy with a top-10.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Biffle finished 21st in 2011 and 2012. In the past two years at Kentucky, Biffle ranks 11th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 13.4.
Last year: Biffle hoped to improve upon his 21st-place finish in 2011. Instead, he matched it. And he blamed himself. With a car that ran around 10-12 for most of the night, Biffle made a critical mistake toward the end of the Quaker State 400. With nearly every driver having tire problems due to the changing track, Biffle radioed that he had a flat tire. He brought it down to pit lane, where the No. 16 crew discovered that, no, Biffle did not have a flat tire. His car was just difficult to handle. The gaffe caused Biffle to lose nearly 20 spots, as he fell from 10th to 27th.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in the standings with 479 points.
Last week: Earnhardt remained seventh in the standings, but he’s actually tied with Greg Biffle (who gets the edge with his one win), and both guys are just two points behind fifth-place Matt Kenseth. That’s a battle worth watching. Earnhardt put himself in position to move up the standings with a good showing next week by finishing 12th at Sonoma, his worst track on the circuit.
What he said: “We really didn’t have a lot of great speed. We just had good strategy on pit road and (came) home with a decent finish. We will take it. This is definitely my worst race track, my least favorite track. We will take a top-15 here any week.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Earnhardt has one top-five and one top-10. In the past two years at Kentucky, Earnhardt ranks 10th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 13.0.
Last year: Like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Junior had a great night. Although his race car became mega-loose over the final 30 laps, he kept control and emerged as the victor in a spirited battle with teammate Jeff Gordon for fourth place.

8. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is eighth in the standings with 461 points.
Last week: Busch has had little success at Sonoma throughout his career, and that was a trend that continued, dropping the driver two spots in the points standings. Busch started ninth, but he was spun out twice -- once early by Juan Pablo Montoya, and once late by Carl Edwards that sent his No 18 Toyota careening into the tire barrier and taking a chunk out of his fender. He finished 35th. If that wasn’t bad enough, Busch then got into a verbal joust with several of his detractors on Twitter later that night.
What he said: “We just couldn’t get anything to go right for us today. We got spun by the 42 (Montoya), rallied from that, got the pit-road speeding penalty, we came back from that. Then the 99 (Edwards) got into us, and there was just too much damage for us to pass anyone, so I just tried to get it to the finish. It just wasn’t our day.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Busch has one win, one top-five and two top-10s. In the past two years at Kentucky, Busch ranks first out of 45 drivers with an average place of 3.6.
Last year: The winner of the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky in 2011, Busch looked to be the class of the field in 2012. Starting second, Busch was either running first or second for the first 120 (of 267) laps and in the top five for the first 190 laps. Then his shock mount broke. That led to a shock breaking. And suddenly Busch, who had led 118 laps, was scrambling in the final 50 laps. He finished in 10th place, but wasn’t happy about it.

9. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is ninth in the standings with 454 points.
Last week: With 10 races remaining until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, you get the sense that Keselowski may need at least one victory to ensure his spot in NASCAR’s postseason. The defending series champion led seven laps at Sonoma, but he finished 21st. In the past eight races, Keselowski has finished outside the top 20 four times, including three finishes of 32nd or worse. The top 10 in the final standings get an automatic entry into the Chase, but Kes is just one point ahead of 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. and nine points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski has one win, one top-five and two top-10s. He is the defending race champion. In the past two years at Kentucky, Keselowski ranks second out of 45 drivers with an average place of 3.8.
Last year: Keselowski pulled off the hat trick at Kentucky, becoming the first Cup Series driver to win his third race of the year. Keselowski also drove in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race and the NASCAR Nationwide Series race the previous two days, so he was perhaps more well-versed than anyone on the intricacies of the 1.5-mile track. And that paid off on a night where Keselowski eventually locked up his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 10th in the standings with 453 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. won for the first time since 2007, a streak of 218 races, in a victory that has major repercussions in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. First, Truex Jr. earned enough points to vault into 10th place, which would be an automatic bid. But even if he falls out, he now has a win to fall back on. That is crucial capital. Tony Stewart can’t be feeling too comfortable, even with a victory in hand, and guys like Paul Menard (12th in the standings) and Jeff Gordon (13th) know they have to win, and quickly.
What he said: “I can’t even put it into words. The team -- they’re just phenomenal. We’ve had cars really fast all year long. We’ve had some tough luck, but that’s part of racing. I’m just proud of these guys for sticking behind me and working hard and giving me race cars like this. Got to thank everybody that supports our program and stood behind me for 200 and something races without a win. We’ve been close a lot and it feels damn good to get one finally.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Truex Jr. has one top-10. In the past two years at Kentucky, Truex Jr. ranks ninth out of 45 drivers with an average place of 12.8.
Last year: Truex Jr.’s craft at 1.5-mile tracks is among the best in NASCAR. That was on display last year when Truex piloted the No. 56 Toyota to an eighth-place showing.

11. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 11th in the standings with 445 points.
Last week: Kahne got back on the right track at Sonoma with a sixth-place showing. But can he maintain that momentum? It’s been an up-and-down year for the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet. Kahne has a victory, but also two DNFs. He has five top-fives, but also four finishes outside top 35. His Chase chances are solid, but not a lock.
What he said: “We had a good day. We came a long ways from Friday. That was one of the better cars I’ve had here late in the race. I was really happy with it.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Kahne has one top-five and one top-10. In the past two years at Kentucky, Kahne ranks 13th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 15.0.
Last year: Kahne put pressure on himself last year, driving the No. 6 Quaker State Chevrolet in the Quaker State 400. Maybe that’s what helped drive the team to a second-place finish. It was an excellent showing on the 1.5-mile track, considering Kahne started 19th and was hampered by a few mistakes on pit road, the first of which dropped him down to 34th place through 60 laps. Kahne didn’t even crack the top 10 until Lap 225, then moved up even more over the remaining 42 laps.

15. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 15th in the standings with 433 points.
Last week: ‘Smoke’ saw his streak of good runs end at four. He finished 28th at the 1.99-mile road course, and Martin Truex Jr. winning hurts his Chase chances. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “Just too many mistakes today.”
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Stewart’s best finish is 12th in 2011. In the past two years at Kentucky, Stewart ranks 27th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 23.2.
Last year: Stewart knew early on that it wasn’t his night. His electronic fuel injection system went down on Lap 27, sending ‘Smoke’ into the garage. By the time it was replaced, Stewart was 34 laps down. He finished 32nd, logging 231 laps in the 267-lap event.

Five in the rearview mirror …

Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 12th in the standings with 445 points.
Last week: Menard’s return to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field ended after one week. The driver’s 14th-place showing was nothing to be upset about, and he’s actually tied with Kasey Kahne for 11th in the standings. The problem for the consistent Menard is that too many drivers now have victories. The solution: Menard needs a win, himself.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Menard’s best finish is 12th in 2012. In the past two years at Kentucky, Menard ranks 15th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 15.4.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is 13th in the standings with 441 points.
Last week: Gordon had a great car at Sonoma, just not good enough to chase down Martin Truex Jr. So while Gordon jumping three spots in the standings, the fact that Truex won puts a pall on his strong showing. Maybe the runner-up finish -- Gordon's best showing of the year -- will give the veteran some momentum.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Gordon has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past two years at Kentucky, Gordon ranks 12th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 13.8.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 14th in the standings with 439 points.
Last week: Logano’s streak of top-10s ended at five, but he finished 11th at Sonoma … giving him six straight finishes of top-11s. Logano is among the hottest drivers on the circuit heading into Kentucky, where he hasn’t had much success. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Logano’s best finish is 14th in 2011. In the past two years at Kentucky, Logano ranks 18th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 17.6.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 17th in the standings with 425 points.
Last week: Busch has had his fair share of car troubles this year. The mistakes at Sonoma, though, were squarely on the driver. Busch had consecutive pit-road speeding penalties, dropping him to 38th place and one lap down, yet finished fourth. Few drivers can match Busch’s talent, but the driver needs more consistency. His past six finishes (starting at the Darlington race) are: 14th, third, 12th, seventh, 35th, fourth.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Busch has one top-10. In the past two years at Kentucky, Busch ranks seventh out of 45 drivers with an average place of 12.1.

Marcos Ambrose (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Ambrose is 22nd in the standings with 380 points.
Last week: Ambrose came oh-so-close to turning the Chase field into an even wackier picture than it is now. The road-course expert couldn’t pull off the win at Sonoma, though. He has another chance at Watkins Glen (and, of course, the other nine races before the Chase begins), but likely let one get away at Sonoma, where he finished seventh.
This week: In two career starts at Kentucky Speedway, Ambrose’s best finish is 23th in 2012. In the past two years at Kentucky, Ambrose ranks 19th out of 45 drivers with an average place of 18.0.