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Driver Reports: Jockeying for Chase position

August 05, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

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Busch among drivers to move up in standings; Wild Card race tightens

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 772 points.
Last week: Johnson had perhaps the car of the field, and he had position, too after winning the Coors Light Pole. So, why the 13th-place finish? Well, for starters, Five-Time blew a right-front tire -- again -- while he was leading. The resulting spin sent him hard into the wall and necessitated multiple stops on pit road to try and tape up his Chevrolet. The fact that Johnson finished 13th after incurring such damage actually caused the No. 48 team to crack a few smiles.
What he said: “I really felt like we had a shot to win, but unfortunately blew a tire off of Turn 1 and ended those hopes there. We worked on the car and got it better. Then I hit the wall so hard that it knocked a spark plug wire off the spark plug. They were able to find the right plug and get everything hooked back up and the engine took off. Off we went and salvaged a very nice finish.”
This week: In 11 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Johnson has four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Johnson ranks third out of 50 drivers with an average place of 9.8.
Last year: Johnson had a fine car, which is so critical at Watkins Glen because most teams hope to pit only twice. The No. 48 started third and finished third on the 2.450-mile road course in New York. It was Five-Time’s best showing at the track since a third-place run in 2007. WGI is one of five venues currently on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule where Johnson has not won.

2. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is second in the standings with 695 points.
Last week: The No. 15 team couldn’t quite figure it out Sunday at Pocono. That’s a shame for them, too, because there were points to be gained on Jimmie Johnson, who cut a tire and later got a pit-road violation. Bowyer nearly cracked the top 10, and used a different pit strategy to be in position to capitalize if a caution fell fortuitously. But it didn’t, and the result was a 14th-place showing -- which actually caused Bowyer to slip an additional two points behind Johnson, who rallied to finish 13th.
What he said: “Boy! 3 bad runs in a row. The boys are digging hard and we were a ton better today than Indy. Thank god we're off flat tracks for a while.” (Via Twitter)
This week: In seven career starts at Watkins Glen International, Bowyer has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Bowyer ranks 13th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 16.9.
Last year: Bowyer had one of the better cars on the track, and he drove one of the better races. The result was a fourth-place finish that ranks as his career-best finish at the road course. Bowyer started eighth and was never outside of the top 10.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is third in the standings with 688 points.
Last week: Edwards was among the drivers to get a pit-road speeding penalty. At massive Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile track with an extended pit road, those are difficult to overcome because the pass-through penalty takes so long. Edwards qualified third and had run exclusively in the top 10 until getting busted. He finished 11th.
What he said: “We ended up 11th, which is probably about where we deserved to end up. I thought we would be worse after that speeding penalty. I am glad we were able to bounce back from that. I would have loved to finish better than that but that is as hard as I can go.”
This week: In eight career starts at Watkins Glen International, Edwards has three top-fives, five top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Edwards ranks seventh out of 50 drivers with an average place of 12.7.
Last year: For the most part, Edwards is a model of consistency at Watkins Glen. He has five top-10s in eight starts, all of which came consecutively during a span from 2006-10. Even last year, when he finished 14th, Edwards ran the No. 99 Ford in the top five for a spell after starting 18th.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 675 points.
Last week: Harvick ran nine consecutive races with a top-10 finish, a streak which ended last week. At Pocono, he didn’t make up for any lost ground. The No. 29 Chevrolet was just off all weekend. Harvick finished 17th after starting 14th. Crew chief Gil Martin called for a variety of changes during pit stops, but nothing got the Chevrolet to Harvick’s liking. He’s now 13 points behind Carl Edwards for third place.
What he said: “These fast, flat tracks have not been kind to us this season. It's not fun for anyone on our team to run and finish in the top 20. Even though we didn't get the finish we were looking for today, we're not going to let it get us down. Next week is another race and a completely different style of track."
This week: In 12 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Harvick has one win, two top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Harvick ranks 12th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 15.6.
Last year: Harvick’s finish of 15th last year was slightly worse than his career average of 13.1. His average starting position is 13.2, so you know the No. 29 is going to be consistent this week.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is fifth in the standings with 656 points.
Last week: A popular pick to win Pocono, Junior couldn’t quite find the extra gear displayed by race winner Kasey Kahne and runner-up Jeff Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Still, Earnhardt’s day could have been a lot worse than his fifth-place finish. His team felt a small vibration during Friday’s track time and couldn’t further explore that potential problem Saturday, as rain washed out practice. So Junior started 25th, didn’t blow up his car and earned a top-five finish. Not bad at all.
What he said: “Just didn’t have the edge we needed. I felt good coming in here thought we might win the race, but we came up a little short. I want to thank National Guard Youth Foundation for everything they do and helping us out this weekend, being a part of this weekend. I thought it was a good race. I really love coming here. I would just like to win here one time.”
This week: In 13 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Earnhardt Jr. has two top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 18th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 18.7.
Last year: Junior was dejected last year after he spun out while a potential, rare top-10 finish on a road course was in sight. Junior’s initial spin while running 10th was due to him overdriving the car, he said. His continued trouble with his No. 88 came after he got into some oil that spilled onto the track. The result was a 28th-place showing. In the past seven races at Watkins Glen, Junior has just two top-20s.

6. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is sixth in the standings with 646 points.
Last week: Busch qualified second for Pocono, but he could never get a handle on his No. 18 Toyota. He gradually slipped off the pace set by Jimmie Johnson, but rallied with a strong day in the pits to come home eighth.
What he said: “We were just a little bit off today. It seemed like we could get going good on restarts and it would drive well for a few laps, then we couldn’t keep up as well on the long run. That’s about all we had with our M&M’s Peanut Butter Camry. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys worked hard today and we were able to get a top-10 out of day that we were just a little behind.”
This week: In eight career starts at Watkins Glen International, Busch has one win, three top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Busch ranks fourth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 10.9.
Last year: In what was one of the absolute best finishes of the year, Kyle Busch turned out to be a major footnote. Busch started second at WGI and had a dominant car. He led 43 of 90 laps was in front when the white flag dropped. But Busch’s No. 18 Toyota halted -- it was running slick due some apparent oil on the track. That allowed Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose to close the gap, and Keselowski eventually bumped Busch out of the way, sending ‘Rowdy’ into the rail and putting him out of the picture. Busch still finished seventh.

7. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is seventh in the standings with 638 points.
Last week: Kenseth was non-factor at Pocono, and it really wasn’t his fault. Juan Pablo Montoya got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap, and Kenseth was caught up in that wreck as the cars careened toward the wall. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff and the No. 20 team did a fine job getting the No. 20 Toyota back out on the track, but Kenseth’s hopes of a top-10 were already crushed. Making matters worse, he spun out again later in the race and was relegated to a 23rd-place finish.
What he said: Kenseth was unavailable for comment.
This week: In 13 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Kenseth has four top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Kenseth ranks 16th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 18.1.
Last year: Kenseth matched his career-best WGI finish in 2012, coming across the start/finish line in eighth place. Not bad at all for a 24th-place start, especially considering Kenseth last finished eighth in 2003. He’s started 24th or worse the past four years, however.

8. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is eighth in the standings with 612 points.
Last week: It all came together for Kasey Kahne. He had one of the fastest cars in the entire race, and drove it well. There were no mechanical foul-ups either. The result was a race in which Kahne led the most laps and passed teammate Jeff Gordon out of Turn 1 on the final restart of the day to win his second race of the season. Kahne had previously given up the lead to Gordon on a restart, and he got it back on the outside lane thanks to a tremendous push from Kurt Busch.
What he said: “I ‘bout gave it away when Jeff (Gordon) got by me. And then I spun the tires a little bit and he got a great jump and Kurt (Busch) pushed me all the to Turn 1, which really helped; and then I had one opportunity. It was either to go for it and make it work, or not. And as good as our car was, our Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, all day long, I thought we could make that work on the outside. I just needed to clear him. And when we got to Turn 2, I was able to do that.”
This week: In nine career starts at Watkins Glen International, Kahne’s best finish is 13th in 2012. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Kahne ranks 15th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 15.2.
Last year: Kahne made progress on a course that gives him trouble. The long and winding road isn’t Kahne’s strong suit, so 13th place in the 2012 event was a welcome development. The next goal: finish with a top-10.

9. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is ninth in the standings with 602 points.
Last week: On the day he turned 42, Gordon nearly got the best birthday gift of all -- a victory. The veteran had to settle for second place, though, after ceding the lead to Kasey Kahne with two laps remaining. Still, the No. 24 was as fast as it’s been all year, and Gordon gained a spot in the standings, which is ever important given that he doesn’t have a victory.
What he said: “It’s funny how our emotions go up and down in this sport. Before the race, if you told me that I’d finish second, I’d say that was a great birthday gift. But when you’re leading, and take the lead from Kasey (Kahne) the way we did you know, on that restart, I thought we had him. He was better than us but I thought getting out in front I could hold him off. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get this win.”
This week: In 20 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Gordon has four wins, six top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Gordon ranks 10th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 14.3.

Last year:
At one point in his career, Gordon won four of five Watkins Glen races from 1997-2001. Those days of dominance are long over, though. Gordon’s 21st-place effort last year was par for the course since, essentially, 2002. In the past 11 races at WGI, Gordon has just two top-10s and six finishes outside the top 20.

10. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is 10th in the standings with 599 points.
Last week: Biffle started seventh and wound up 10th on a wild afternoon at Pocono. Here’s the thing, though. Biffle actually lost two spots in the standings and is down to 10th place. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “That was a tough day. We just couldn’t get the balance right and were a little too tight and a little too loose back and forth. We didn’t have quite what we needed, but it was good enough for a top-10 finish and we will take that.”
This week: In 10 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Biffle has one top-five and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Biffle ranks 20th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 19.7.
Last year: Biffle isn’t known as a road-course maestro by any stretch, but he’s coming off a sixth-place effort at Watkins Glen, the second-best outing of his career. Only in 2009, when Biffle finished fifth, did he do better. Still, his average finish is 23.8.

11. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 11th in the standings with 594 points.
Last week: Stewart recorded his second consecutive top-10 and third in the past four races with his ninth-place effort at Pocono. His season is in jeopardy, though, after breaking his right leg in a sprint car crash. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “Good strategy by the crew chief because the driver screwed up today. I got us the pit-road speeding penalty and put us back there. Steve’s (Addington, crew chief) pretty keen on the pit strategy and what to do to get us back up there. Got us back the track position I just was a little too tight to stay there.”
This week: In 14 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Stewart has five wins, seven top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Stewart ranks first out of 50 drivers with an average place of 5.6.
Last year: Stewart's broken leg comes just before a race at one of his best tracks. His career success at Watkins Glen may be the most impressive of any driver currently driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That said, ‘Smoke’ goofed up last year, overdriving the final corner of WGI’s 2.450-mile road course and spinning out while running in second place with 19 laps remaining. Stewart finishes 19th and apologized to his team on the radio, saying he “gave it away.”

14. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 14th in the standings with 584 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. qualified poorly for the second consecutive week, but once again, he rallied to gain position and earn a respectable finish. Running 15th isn’t a championship-caliber run, but it keeps him atop the Wild Card standings. For now.
What he said: “It was a hard fought 15th-place finish. I was driving as hard as I could and we just couldn’t go anywhere. When we started, we were terrible, but Chad (Johnston, crew chief) made good calls on the adjustments.”
This week: In seven career starts at Watkins Glen International, Truex Jr. has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Truex Jr. ranks eighth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 13.0.
Last year: Truex had a consistent day, finishing 10th after starting ninth on the grid.

Five in the rearview mirror …

Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is 12th in the standings with 592 points.
Last week: Keselowski exited his busiest weekend of the year with a win as an owner in the Camping World Truck Series, a win as a driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and a sixth-place finish at Pocono in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Whew. Perhaps that production pace will boost Keselowski into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The defending champion is a scant seven points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle. He’s heading to a track at Watkins Glen in which he bumped and banged his way to a second-place finish last year. And when the chips are down for the No. 2 team, it always seems to rise to the occasion.
This week: In three career starts at Watkins Glen International, Keselowski has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Keselowski ranks sixth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 12.7.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 13th in the standings with 588 points.
Last week: Pocono presented another chance for Busch to gain ground in the standings, and he did so. A third-place effort was the No. 78 team’s best showing since the Coca-Cola 600 and keeps the veteran on an upward swing as the regular season comes to an end.
This week: In 12 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Busch has one top-five, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Busch ranks 15th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 17.9.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Where he stands:
Newman is 15th in the standings with 575 points.
Last week: On the heels of his remarkable win at the Brickyard, Newman had a No. 39 Chevrolet that was fast, but not quite as fast as some of the upper echelon machines at the Tricky Triangle. So while Newman qualified fourth and finished fourth, he wasn’t able to put himself in position to go back-to-back and, in all likelihood, clinch a spot in the postseason. That’s OK, because he still gained ground on the folks above him with five races to go before the Chase field is set. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In 11 career starts at Watkins Glen International, Newman has one top-five and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Newman ranks 14th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 17.5.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 17th in the standings with 561 points.
Last week: If you’re a fan of the No. 22 Ford, it must be painful wondering where Logano would be if not for the 25-point penalty from Texas, or the consecutive 40th-place finishes due to blown tires. With a seventh-place finish at Pocono, Logano continued his steady end to the season and even expressed confidence in making the Chase during his post-race news conferences. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In four career starts at Watkins Glen International, Logano has one top-five and one top-10. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Logano ranks 27th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 22.1.

Marcos Ambrose (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Ambrose is 22nd in the standings with 500 points.
Last week: Ambrose finished 12th at Pocono in his No. 9 Ford, giving him some momentum heading into Watkins Glen. It’s not like the Australian needs momentum heading to this course, either. He’s been a star on 2.450-mile road course, with his only two career NASCAR wins coming here. He has five top-10s in five attempts and could at least make it into the Chase conversation with another victory in 2013.
This week: In five career starts at Watkins Glen International, Ambrose has two wins, five top-fives and five top-10s. He is the defending race winner. In the past eight years at Watkins Glen, Ambrose ranks second out of 50 drivers with an average place of 9.0.