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Driver Reports: Two down, eight to go

September 24, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Junior among Chase drivers who rallied; Bowyer struggles at the end

1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,111 points.
Last week: The only thing better than opening the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a win is opening the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with two wins. Kenseth did just that at New Hampshire, leading a race-high 106 laps for a perfect 48-point day. The victory also came in Kenseth's 500th career start. Previously, only one other driver had been victorious in his 500th career start -- Richard Petty in 1970.
What he said: "For me to win at Loudon first of all is more than a stretch and more than a dream -- this is probably one of my worst places. That just shows you how good this whole team is."
Outlook: In 29 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, 13 top-fives, 18 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Dover, Kenseth ranks second out of 54 drivers with an average place of 9.4. He finished 40th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

2. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is second in the standings with 2,097 points.
Last week: For the second consecutive week, Busch finished second to race-winner Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have been spectacular to open the postseason, and Busch isn't yet sweating the lack of victories. After all, as he noted after his Loudon runner-up showing, he'll likely win the championship if he continues to finish second in the eight remaining Chase races.
What he said: "I fought hard and tried everything. The 20 (Matt Kenseth) had a lot more than us this weekend for some reason, we’re not sure why. Sometimes you get those magical cars, but hopefully there’s a couple for us left this year. I don’t know -- that’s all we had and we fought hard."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Busch has two wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Busch ranks sixth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 11.2. He finished fourth in the first 2013 race at Dover.

3. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is third in the standings with 2,093 points.
Last week: Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet wasn't the most dominant car in the field, but it was the most dominant Chevrolet. And with Five-Time negotiating the traffic after a couple of mediocre restarts, he got the vehicle across the start/finish line in fourth place after starting 11th. More importantly, Johnson has the look of a championship contender. That in itself is not surprising, but the team's miserable final four races in the regular season had called that into question.
What he said: "To open the Chase with a five, four (finishing positions) is great. One, one like Matt (Kenseth) has is a lot better, but we're in a good spot. We haven't given up too many points, and we're going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Johnson has seven wins, 11 top-fives, 16 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Dover, Johnson ranks first out of 54 drivers with an average place of 7.1. He finished 17th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

4. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is fourth in the standings with 2,075 points.
Last week: The 1-mile flat track at Loudon historically hasn't been too kind to Edwards. So while the No. 99 team is of course shooting for a victory every week, coming in ninth at New Hampshire was, well, a pleasant feeling. After all, Edwards has finished in the top 10 in just 26 percent of his career starts there.
What he said: "I'm pleasantly surprised. Obviously, we want to be better than that, but we had one run where we got too loose and I went way back, but (crew chief) Jimmy (Fennig) made good calls and the guys did a good job with the car. At the end, if there were another 100 laps in this thing, I think we could have been up there with Greg (Biffle), so I was pretty proud of the effort."
Outlook: In 18 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Edwards has one win, eight top-fives and 12 top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Edwards ranks third out of 54 drivers with an average place of 10.3. He finished 14th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

5. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is fifth in the standings with 2,073 points.
Last week: Biffle made the biggest jump this week, moving up six spots in the standings after his third-place showing. Of course, with the points getting reset for the Chase, Biffle's cushion over the drivers below him is microscopic. Forget sixth-place Kevin Harvick … Biffle's lead over eighth-place Jeff Gordon is just four points. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: "It was a miracle. We didn’t pass anybody in the pits, we passed them all on the race track. I feel really good about how far the team has come. We had great pit stops, but we just got good at the end and our car really, really took off. We were able to drive by those guys and get up to third. It was the most fun I've had in a long time even though we finished third."
Outlook:
In 22 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Biffle has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Dover, Biffle ranks fifth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 10.7. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

6. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is sixth in the standings with 2,072 points.
Last week: Harvick's handling issues contributed to a sluggish day for the No. 29 team. His 20th-place finish was second-worst among Chase drivers, and would have been the worst of the day had Kasey Kahne not gotten into the wall following contact with Brian Vickers. Harvick hasn't lost much in the way of his standings (he only slipped two spots), but his points lead over those behind him continues to shrink.
What he said: "We struggled with handling issues all day and never could get it figured out. Even though we didn't get the finish we were looking for, we're not going to let it get us down. Next week is another race and we'll look for better results heading into Dover."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Harvick has three top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Harvick ranks 14th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.0. He finished eighth in the first 2013 race at Dover.

7. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is seventh in the standings with 2,071 points.
Last week: Furniture Row Racing has elevated its game so much this season that a top-15 showing is a disappointment. The No. 78 team stuck to its planned adjustments on Sunday and missed the mark. Still, thanks to Kurt Busch's qualifying effort (fourth), it wasn't a precipitous fall off the grid. Busch finished 13th and slipped just one spot in the standings.
What he said: "We didn't hit it right on the adjustments today. It was nobody's fault, we all agreed what adjustments to make and it just didn't work out. We struggled with the handling and couldn't make a move to the front. While we aren't pleased with where we finished (13th), we fought for every position and gave it our best effort. There's still a long ways to go in this Chase. We know we can do much better and we'll keep on plugging away."
Outlook: In 26 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Busch has one win, six top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Busch ranks eighth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.7. He finished 12th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

8. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is eighth in the standings with 2,069 points.
Last week: The 13th driver added to the Chase field, Gordon appeared poised to rocket up the standings for the second consecutive week and assert himself as a serious title contender. Gordon still may challenge for the championship yet, but a pit-road miscue cost him dearly at Loudon. Gordon, who led 36 laps, pitted with the lead after 200 laps and slid through his pit box (watch video of the incident below). He had to back up, and the extra time cost him dearly on the way to a 15th-place showing.
What he said: "I'm highly disappointed in myself. The team put me in a great position. We had a decent car and then track position made it into a great car. So it was obviously important to maintain that. I just came in and slid through. I hadn't come close to sliding through all day and I guess just leading, I carried a little bit more speed in there and crossed the splitter over the line by an inch, and that’s all it takes to make a difference between a chance at winning and finishing 15th."
Outlook: In 41 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Gordon has four wins, 16 top-fives, 23 top-10s and four poles. In the past eight years at Dover, Gordon ranks ninth out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.8. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Dover.

9. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is ninth in the standings with 2,064 points.
Last week: Newman started from the Coors Light Pole position, and that was the highlight of his day. He led only the first two laps before slipping back in the field, a trend that continued all day. A miscommunication during a Lap 200 pit stop resulted in the incorrect chassis adjustment, which made his No. 39 Chevrolet even worse. Newman slipped back to 25th after that before rallying over the final laps to finish 16th. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: "I still don't understand what happened with the car. It just never drove the same after we won the pole on Friday afternoon. Even in practice on Saturday. Glad we got back up to 16th after the deal on pit road, but I don't know."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Newman has three wins, six top-fives, 11 top-10s and four poles. In the past eight years at Dover, Newman ranks seventh out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.7. He finished 36th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

10. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is 10th in the standings with 2,063 points.
Last week: Bowyer's pit strategy at first appeared to pay off. He took the lead late in the Sylvania 300 and held it for five laps. He eventually pitted out of turn, and a caution flag came at a most inopportune time, briefly dropping the driver off the lead lap. Bowyer was in position to be the beneficiary of a caution, which he got on David Gilliland's Lap 247 crash, and managed to get back up to 17th place by the end.
What he said: "We stubbed our toe a little (Sunday). We just had a hard time in traffic and couldn't get through the corner like we would have liked. We gambled on track position and I thought we'd be fine, but that caution right after our pit stop killed us. It was a tough day overall for the team, but we aren't done yet. There is still some time in this deal and we plan to make some noise before it's over."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Bowyer has one top-five and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Bowyer ranks 10th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 12.8. He finished sixth in the first 2013 race at Dover.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is 11th in the standings with 2,049 points.
Last week: Junior rallied from his sluggish start to the postseason and finished sixth at Loudon. He ceded fifth to a charging Jamie McMurray in the closing laps, but was still pleased with his rally. With eight races remaining, Earnhardt is 62 points out of the lead.
What he said: "I knew it was going to be difficult to hold (McMurray) off. Just real happy to be able to rebound from earlier on pit road and get a good finish. The car was fast as heck (Saturday), one of the top three cars I thought. Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it. Just want to win one, I’m trying hard."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one win, five top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 20th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 18.8. He finished 10th in the first 2013 race at Dover.

12. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 12th in the standings with 2,042 points.
Last week: Logano improved his showing from the first Chase race by more than 20 positions. That's because his engine blew up at Chicago, relegating him to 37th. So finishing 14th at New Hampshire was a big jump, but he still finished behind seven other Chase drivers. You'd think Logano would enjoy coming to Loudon, site of his first career Cup victory, but it's not one of his favorite tracks. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: “This is Loudon for me. It was nothing different. It’s just such a tricky race track to get around. It is the hardest race track in the world to pass. It’s the most frustrating place I think I’ve ever been to, so I’m just glad to leave."
Outlook:
In nine career starts at Dover International Speedway, Logano has one top-five and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Logano ranks 21st out of 54 drivers with an average place of 19.0. He finished seventh in the first 2013 race at Dover.

13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,040 points.
Last week: Kahne qualified second, led 31 laps and was in the top 10 nearly all day. In fact, the No. 5 Chevrolet wasn't out of the top 10 until an incident with Brian Vickers on Lap 254 (of 300) that sent Kahne spinning into the inside wall (watch video of the incident below). The result of that crash was a 37th-place finish that puts the driver in last place among Chase contenders.
What he said: "I really don’t know what happened. Just racing and I’m not sure if there was contact or if I just spun. I seriously don’t really remember how it happened."
Outlook:
In 19 career starts at Dover International Speedway, Kahne has one top-five and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Dover, Kahne ranks 16th out of 54 drivers with an average place of 16.9. He finished 23rd in the first 2013 race at Dover.