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Driver Reports: Chase hopefuls still chasing JJ

August 20, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Chase hopefuls still chasing JJ
Postseason picture hinges on final three races for these drivers

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 813 points.
Last week: The good thing about building such a big points lead is that, when Jimmie Johnson’s backup car went kaput, there was no reason for the No. 48 crew to worry. Despite leading three laps and charging his way to the front of the field after starting in the rear, Johnson left Michigan after a five-point day. It was his worst showing of the season, and his first DNF since the 2012 finale. The result? He’s still first in the standings, and with a 41-point lead over Clint Bowyer.
What he said: “We had an issue there with the engine as I came out of the pits and got back up to speed dropped a couple of cylinders. We were trying to get it figured out and see what would happen. On my way into the pits it finally locked up and that’s the end of it. Unfortunate day, but I’m happy that we have had such a strong opening part of the season and we have points on our side and some wins on our side.”
This week: In 23 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Johnson has one win, seven top-fives, 13 nine top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Johnson ranks fourth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.5. He finished 22nd at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Johnson nearly charged all the way through the field for his second win at Bristol. As it was, Five-Time had to settle for a runner-up finish to Denny Hamlin after leaving the grid in 37th position to start. He led 52 laps on the night.

2. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is second in the standings with 772 points.
Last week: Bowyer took a solo spin on Lap 1 after starting 11th. After pitting for a quick fix, he was 43rd. Day over, right? Not quite. The No. 15 team got into grind-it-out mode, and Bowyer wove through the field and gained ground on multiple restarts to come home with a fifth-place finish and keep second place in the standings over Carl Edwards. See video of Bowyer’s spin below.
What he said: “Man, what a long day. Spinning out on the first lap I’m like -- I couldn’t figure out -- a lot of times you just know that you’re hanging it out too much and trying to get too much out of it and you wreck on your own. I didn’t think that was the case. I was trying to get around the 2 (Brad Keselowski), felt good, wide open, good ‘ole girl stuck and all the sudden it wasn’t stuck and away I went. All these guys they just don’t give up. That’s what I love about this team, this organization. That’s why we’re where we’re at in the points. Obviously, we want to start winning races, but those days like that are what win championships.”
This week: In 15 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bowyer has five top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Bowyer ranks 16th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 17.0. He finished fifth at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Despite starting 23rd, Bowyer wheeled his No. 15 Toyota into the top 10 within 100 laps of the 500-miler. His goal then became quite obvious -- keep it there. Bowyer was intent on making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and he knew a top-10 finish at Bristol would go a long way toward making that happen. So when he was seventh over the final 20 laps and right on Kyle Busch’s bumper, Bowyer elected not to push him out of the way or try an aggressive pass.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is third in the standings with 762 points.
Last week: Michigan is one of the best tracks for Roush Fenway Racing, and although the RFR team wasn’t in Victory Lane, it placed two cars in the top 10. Edwards was one of those cars, finishing 10th. He started 19th and never was in contention for the win, but he was one of just a few cars to pit on the final caution flag. He lost a lot of ground, but used his new tires for grip to make multiple passes before the checkered flag dropped.
What he said: Edwards was not available for comment.
This week: In 18 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Edwards has two wins, four top-fives, seven top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Bristol, Edwards ranks 12th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.3. He finished 18th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Desperate for a victory that would all but clinch a spot in the Chase, Edwards gambled at Bristol. He lost big-time. The driver kept his No. 99 Ford out during a caution on Lap 415 while the leaders pitted and took the lead. He took over first, but couldn’t maintain his hold on old tires. And with just a few laps remaining, he had to pit for fuel and eventually finished 22nd.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 749 points.
Last week: Harvick may have had the best car on the track Sunday. At the very least, it was one of the best machines, so his second-place finish was earned. The No. 29 Chevrolet moved up through the field multiple times on restarts and had a fuel gamble pay off. Harvick was a bit short on fuel, but his team waited for a caution flag that arrived, allowing them to stay out on the track.
What he said: “You know, we never really got out in front by ourselves today, but our Rheem Chevrolet was really good. I just mistimed that last restart there. I was rolling pretty good on the No. 55 (Mark Martin) and going to beat him to the start/finish line, so I had to check up and that allowed the No. 22 (Joey Logano) to kind of make it three-wide and get under me and then we had to fight back from there.”
This week: In 25 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Harvick has one win, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Harvick ranks eighth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 13.6. He finished 14th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Harvick spent 384 of 500 laps running in the top 15, according to NASCAR Stastical Service's Loop Data. It was a consistent effort, given that the driver started 13th and finished 15th. He had a chance for a top-five showing, but ended up pitting for fuel on Lap 415 once his team realized he would end the race short without a stop.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 706 points.
Last week: What went right for Kyle Busch at Michigan? The short answer is “nothing,” even though his No. 18 Toyota ran in the top 10 at various points of the race. Busch brought out two late cautions with two solo spins. One week after winning at Watkins Glen, Busch finished 31st at Michigan, but he didn’t lose any ground in the standings. You can watch video of his incident below.
What he said: “Well then ... Rough day I'd say. Knew this was gonna be a tough day but I didn't do my best to get thru it. Congrats to Joey Logano.” (Via Twitter)
This week: In 17 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch has five wins, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Busch ranks sixth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.7. He finished second at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Busch called his night “decent,” which of course means he had a good car and finished well. The No. 18 Toyota finished sixth, and Busch took some of the blame for a finish he deemed lackluster. Changes to the track altered the racing groove, and the car’s setup -- based in part on Busch’s advice – didn’t allow him to challenge the leaders.

6. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is sixth in the standings with 688 points.
Last week: Kenseth didn’t have the best car in the field at Michigan, but he looked more like the Matt Kenseth who won four races this year rather than the Matt Kenseth who has three DNFs. Kenseth maneuvered his No. 20 Toyota into the top five late in the race before getting shuffled to the back on the ensuing late restarts and pit stops. He gained one spot in the standings, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr.
What he said: “Our biggest problem was we were way off on speed. We didn’t handle perfect either, but we had a couple runs that were pretty good and then it seemed like the time we took fuel only and didn’t put any tires on, we just got really loose and got to the back. We never could really overcome that.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, 10 top-fives, 17 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Kenseth ranks second out of 54 drivers with an average place of 10.7. He finished 35th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Kenseth tangled with Tony Stewart -- the two were involved in a number of incidents last season -- and got a helmet chucked at his car for good measure after Smoke emerged from his tattered vehicle. In Kenseth’s view, Stewart’s slide job sent the No. 14 against the wall after Kenseth lifted to give Stewart some room. The two cars banged into each other the next turn, spinning both out and relegating Kenseth to a 25th-place finish. Still, the effort was good enough to clinch a spot in the Chase.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is seventh in the standings with 679 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr.’s last two victories -- which came in 2012 and 2008 -- were both at Michigan. On Sunday, he had a fast No. 88 Chevrolet and led 20 of 200 laps. In the time it takes for a front tire to shred, however, his day was ruined. That busted tire sent Junior into the wall and essentially out of the race, although he came back on the track and finished 36th. Instead of challenging for his first win and strengthening his postseason positioning, Junior slipped to seventh in the standings and has no wins to fall back on with three races remaining. You can watch video of the incident below.
What he said: “There are guys in worst positions than us. We ain’t got to outrun just one guy; there’s a lot of guys. And all of them have got to have clean races, just like we do. I think we’ll be all right. We’re not an 11th-place team. We’re a top-five team. We’ve just got to shake this luck, whatever is going on; it’s something different every time.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one win, seven top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Earnhardt Jr. ranks ninth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 14.0. He finished sixth at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Junior’s no Bristol newbie. In fact, he’s a veteran of Thunder Valley with 27 career starts there. He finished 12th in the night race last year.

8. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is eighth in the standings with 667 points.
Last week: Keselowski wanted the win so badly, his team considered not pitting under the final yellow. Keselowski was leading at the time, but such a move would have been foolish. Getting fuel and tires enabled Bad Brad to move up from 15th on the restart, and his 12th-place finish kept him in the top 10 in points.
What he said: “It is the same deal every week. The yellows fall exactly the wrong way to screw up our strategy. That can’t keep going that way. It's like Black Jack, you aren’t going to keep turning 15 or 16 on every hand. Eventually you are going to turn a good hand. We just didn’t catch it today.”
This week: In seven career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Keselowski has two wins, three top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Keselowski ranks fifth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.6. He finished third at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: The defending race winner, Keselowski had dreams of a repeat, and winning his third consecutive race at the track (he won the 2012 spring race here, too). Qualifying second helped justify those visions of grandeur. But Keselowski’s car wasn’t the class of the field, and then he crunched Brian Vickers’ No. 55 Toyota and hit the wall. Fearing a problem with his car, Vickers had checked up, leaving a handful of drivers with nowhere to go. Keselowski finished 30th, logging 434 of 500 laps.

9. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is ninth in the standings with 665 points.
Last week: Busch had one of the strongest cars on track. He led 43 of 200 laps and, although he didn’t get his long-sought victory, finished third. That was a great points day and sent the veteran into the top 10 in the points standings, which is grounds for an automatic berth into the Chase -- for now.
What he said: “A good day. At the end of the day, we have our weaknesses and pit road and restarts are one of them. It’s just like our Achilles’ heel, but to be in position to win at the end, we had it, we just didn’t have the speed. So we can’t blame those items as a result of our third-place. But here we are talking third place and that’s what’s awesome about our effort today to bounce back from where we were at the first Michigan and what we’ve learned since June to be where we are now.”
This week: In 25 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch has five wins, seven top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Busch ranks seventh out of 54 drivers with an average place of 13.2. He finished fourth at the first 2013 race at Bristol.

Last year:
Busch logged 440 of 500 laps and finished 28th while driving the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing.

10. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is 10th in the standings with 663 points.
Last week: Biffle was attempting to become the first driver since Bill Elliott (1985-86) to win three consecutive races at Michigan. It didn’t pan out, although the No. 16 did lead for 28 laps and finished ninth. It was Biffle’s fourth consecutive top-10 at the track. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “We bumped the 2 (of Brad Keselowski) coming out of the pits in that scramble at the end and hurt the left front fender. That might have been some of our problem. Our cars are way, way better out front than they are in traffic. That is really tough for us.”
This week: In 21 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Biffle has six top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. He is the defending race winner. In the past eight years at Bristol, Biffle ranks third out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.3. He finished 11th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Biffle left Bristol with two things -- the points lead intact, and a guaranteed berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He achieved both of those things despite a 19th-place finish, a poor showing when you consider he qualified third in the No. 16 Ford.

11. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 11th in the standings with 659 points.
Last week: On a pretty miserable day for Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne had the only top-10 in the group. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were out of the race early with car troubles, and Gordon’s machine struggled all day. Kahne, meanwhile, finished seventh after starting 31st on the grid.
What he said: Kahne was unavailable for comment.
This week: In 19 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kahne has one win, four top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Kahne ranks 20th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 17.6. He won the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Before his Bristol breakthrough earlier in 2013, Kahne finished ninth in the 2012 night race.

12. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 12th in the standings with 653 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. fell out of the top 10 after his 16th-place showing at the wide 2-mile oval. He still owns a Wild Card spot, but Joey Logano and Ryan Newman are right on his heels.
What he said: “We started off pretty solid and I thought we were going to be OK. Then the handling on the NAPA Toyota went away. We tried a bunch of different strategies to regain track position from the start but the car just would not handle the way we needed it to. It was downright terrible there for a while. I wish we had more laps because it could have been a better day.”
This week: In 15 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Truex Jr. has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Truex Jr. ranks 14th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished 12th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.
Last year: Bristol wasn’t kind to Martin Truex Jr. early in the driver’s career, but that’s a trend he’s reversed over the past four races. In the 2012 night race, Truex steadily drove his No. 56 Toyota to an 11th-place showing. In fact, in the past four races at Thunder Valley, his average finish is 7.0. In his previous 11 races at the .533-mile circuit, his average finish was 22.3.

Five Chase hopefuls …

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 13th in the standings with 646 points.
Last week: Any questions? Logano’s end-of-season surge hit its crescendo Sunday was his gutsy win at Michigan. Logano handled his No. 22 Ford expertly on the final laps, passing Mark Martin (who ran out of fuel) with four to go and holding off Kevin Harvick. He’s now in Wild Card contention and could even sneak into the top 10 if he keeps running well. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In nine career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Logano has one top-10 and one pole. In the past eight years at Bristol, Logano ranks 23rd out of 54 drivers with an average place of 19.1. He finished 17th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is 14th in the standings with 637 points.
Last week: Gordon and his team missed it again at Michigan. Following a 17th-place finish, time is running out for the veteran. Then again, we said the same thing last year, and the No. 24 team clinched a spot in the Chase in the regular-season finale at Richmond.
This week: In 41 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gordon has five wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s and five poles. In the past eight years at Bristol, Gordon ranks first out of 54 drivers with an average place of 9.6. He finished 34th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Where he stands:
Newman is 15th in the standings with 636 points.
Last week: Newman finished 13th, which isn’t bad at all, but lost his Wild Card spot. Even worse, Joey Logano got the win and passed Newman in the standings. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In 23 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Newman has one top-five, 13 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Bristol, Newman ranks 13th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.3. He finished seventh at the first 2013 race at Bristol.

Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: McMurray is 16th in the standings with 622 points.
Last week: McMurray’s engine blew up in practice, and it seemed like the No. 1 team couldn’t recover. He finished 22nd.
This week: In 21 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, McMurray has three top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, McMurray ranks 25th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 20.2. He finished 10th at the first 2013 race at Bristol.

Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 17th in the standings with 599 points.
Last week: Hey, remember Paul Menard? The driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet finished fourth Sunday, his best showing of the year. It was his first top-10 since Kansas and his first top-five since October 2012.
This week: In 12 career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, Menard has one top-five and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Bristol, Menard ranks 24th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 19.4.