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Driver Reports: Let the Chase begin

September 09, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Let the Chase begin
Standings get a shakeup with postseason field set

1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,015 points.
Last week: Kenseth led five laps at Richmond and finished sixth. More importantly, neither Jimmie Johnson nor Kyle Busch won Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. That ensured Kenseth, with a series-high five wins this season, would be the No. 1 seed for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup when the points were reset. It’s Kenseth’s first time atop the points standings since July 15, 2012, following the New Hampshire race.
What he said: “We ended up finishing the night decent -- we just kind of struggled with the car. We got it a little better some runs and the last couple cautions fell our way and the last restart fell our way. We were in the right lane for once and made up some spots. We finished better than we ran, but we were off a little bit. I feel good going to Chicago -- it will be alright.”
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Kenseth has two top-fives, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Kenseth ranks fourth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 10.9. He finished 18th in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is second in the standings with 2,012 points.
Last week: Johnson is entering the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint coming off the worst four-race stretch of his career. His 40th-place finish at Richmond can be slightly excused because Five-Time had no track time prior to the race; he was at home with his wife Chandra who had given birth to the couple’s second daughter. But seeking his sixth title, Johnson has finished 28th or worse in four consecutive races.
What he said: “It was definitely a bad run (Saturday). When I look at the Chase and the tracks that are in the Chase, those are tracks that we're really good at historically, and when I look at August, August is normally tough on the 48, and this year it was once again.”
Outlook: In 11 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Johnson has six top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Johnson ranks first out of 54 drivers with an average place of 7.1. He finished second in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is third in the standings with 2,012 points.
Last week: Busch’s 19th-place finish at Richmond included a brief, heated exchange with crew chief Dave Rogers. Although “Rowdy” finished as one of the last drivers on the lead lap, the more important result for him came one week ago at Atlanta -- a victory. In fact, Busch closed the regular season with two wins in the final five races to earn 12 bonus points and enter the Chase seeded third.
What he said: “Certainly last week was a lot more promising situation to be going into the Chase. We’ve got to look at our program and where we’ve been -- mile-and-a-halves have kind of been our strong suit. You still have those races like Loudon (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) and Martinsville and Phoenix that you have to be good at too. We’ll just have to work and lay all the pieces out and see what needs to be better.”
Outlook: In eight career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Busch has one win, three top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Busch ranks fifth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 11.0. He finished fourth in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 2,006 points.
Last week: Harvick had one of the better cars on the night and was in position to challenge for a victory before the final caution flag fell. The final pit stop and ensuing restart shuffled Harvick back to 11th, which is where he finished the race. Harvick’s two wins set his new point total to 2,006, and he earned the seeding tiebreaker over Carl Edwards by virtue of his pair of second-place showings.
What he said: “Well if the caution doesn’t come out I feel like we win the race. The Budweiser Chevrolet was really good and we had made a lot of adjustments. The car was just really loose to start the race and so when you can do things like that, adjust your car and take it from a 25th-place car to a winning car in the same night that is signs that things are going to be OK.”
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick has two wins, six top-fives, and seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Harvick ranks seventh out of 54 drivers with an average place of 11.9. He finished 12th in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

5. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is fifth in the standings with 2,006 points.
Last week: Edwards broke through for his second win of the season, and first since the second week of 2013. Edwards runs well at Richmond, so starting 26th didn’t deter the team. He led 46 laps and passed Paul Menard on the final restart to take the checkered flag. The victory also ensured that Edwards finished the regular season No. 1 in the standings before the Chase field was set.
What he said: “We’re gonna win the championship. That’s our mission. That seemed like a crazy idea about a month-and-a-half ago, but these guys have buckled down. Everybody back at the shop, all the guys building these race cars … everybody has rallied together. … The next 10 weeks, we’re gonna be on them hard. They’re gonna know we’re here.”
Outlook: In eight career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Edwards has three top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Edwards ranks 15th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.2. He finished 19th in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is sixth in the standings with 2,003 points.
Last week: Whew! In a comfortable spot heading into Richmond, Logano and the No. 22 team endured an uncomfortable night in the Federated Auto Parts 400 and finished in the top 10 in points to earn an automatic bid into the Chase. Logano took the wave-around on the final caution and passed two cars on the final laps to finish with a one-point edge over Jeff Gordon for 10th. Thanks to his victory this year, Logano is the sixth Chase seed. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “I’m encouraged for sure. All of our finishes leading up to this race were really, really good. I feel like we were the hottest team in NASCAR coming into this race, so we’re not gonna let this kill our momentum. We’re gonna take this momentum we have getting into the Chase and let ‘er rip and have some fun.”
Outlook:
In four career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Logano has one top-10. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Logano ranks 18th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.7. He finished seventh in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

7. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is seventh in the standings with 2,003 points.
Last week: Biffle comfortably qualified for the postseason with a 12th-place run at Richmond that was among his most consistent of the 2013 season. The No. 16 team started ninth on the night and was never in danger of a worrisome finish. Entering the postseason, Biffle has finished 16th or better in six consecutive races. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
Outlook: In 10 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Biffle has one top-five and one top-10. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Biffle ranks 17th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.8. He finished 13th in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is eighth in the standings with 2,000 points.
Last week: Junior is in the postseason for the third consecutive year. He earned an automatic spot in the Chase by virtue of his 13th-place finish at Richmond. And Earnhardt Jr. is likely champing at the bit for the final 10-race stretch, given that he missed two postseason races last year dealing with lingering post-concussion syndromes.
What he said: “We are pretty excited to be in the Chase. Especially to do it with Time Warner Cable on the side of the car tonight was pretty cool. We’ve got some things to do to sort of get our cars in order and give ourselves a good shot. We are going to do the best job we can.”
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one win, three top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Earnhardt Jr. ranks ninth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 13.5. He finished eighth in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

9. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is ninth in the standings with 2,000 points.
Last week: Busch made NASCAR history on Saturday night. His runner-up finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 ensured that the No. 78 Chevrolet would make the postseason. As a result, Furniture Row Racing becomes the first single-car team to qualify for the Chase. Busch’s team on pit road improved as the night went along, and the Outlaw led 73 laps and finished behind only race-winner Carl Edwards.
What he said: “This feels incredible. The way that we worked together as a team and built up over the year, it’s amazing that we have come this far and we have put ourselves in position and here we are in the Chase. We didn’t win a race yet this year. We still have some work to do to get to that point, but we have a lot of good tools on this team that help us and it’s an amazing feeling to go up against these big teams and to put a little lone Chevrolet from Colorado into the Chase against the big boys.”
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Busch has six top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Busch ranks 14th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.1. He finished 32nd in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

10. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is 10th in the standings with 2,000 points.
Last week: Bowyer took a major drop in the standings once the Chase field was set. The reason: he has zero wins this year, and therefore earned zero bonus points. For a while, it looked like he might win at Richmond for the second consecutive season. Bowyer led 72 laps, but an ill-timed caution dropped him from among the leaders to back in the pack. Bowyer then spun out in the final laps -- an issue which NASCAR investigated over the next couple of days -- and finished 25th on the night.
What he said: “Just nothing went our way. We’ve been fast the last three weeks -- led the last three weeks and somehow lost all three of them. It’s a shame -- it is what it is.”
Outlook: In seven career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Bowyer has one top-five and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Bowyer ranks eighth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 9.7. He finished 10th in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

11. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 11th in the standings with 2,000 points.
Last week: Kahne couldn’t crack the top 10 in the standings after a rough night at Richmond. The No. 5 Chevrolet didn’t pit on the final pit stop, so Kahne regained some ground but still finished 14th. As a result of not finishing the regular season in the top 10, Kahne advances to the Chase as a Wild Card -- which means he does not earn six bonus points for his two wins earlier this year.
What he said: “We weren’t able to race our way in. We just weren’t good enough (Saturday). It’s discouraging to not be as fast as we would like to be. I thought we were going to be a lot better, we just weren’t. Hopefully these final 10 (races) we can make some noise.”
Outlook:
In nine career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Kahne has two top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Kahne ranks 21st out of 54 drivers with an average place of 18.0. He finished third in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.

12. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 12th in the standings with 2,000 points.
Last week: Newman’s third-place finish at Richmond was overshadowed by the end-race actions among Michael Waltrip Racing drivers. The No. 39 team ended up missing the Chase by a tiebreaker over Martin Truex Jr. On Monday night, NASCAR issued penalties to MWR that included the loss of 50 points for each of the company’s three drivers. That knocked Truex Jr. out of the Chase, and put Newman in as the final Wild Card spot. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “Myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Outlook: In 11 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Newman has one win, three top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Chicagoland, Newman ranks 13th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 15.0. He finished fifth in the 2012 race at Chicagoland.