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Driver Reports: Johnson gaining ground

October 08, 2013, Brad Norman and RJ Kraft, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Johnson gaining ground
Tough run at Kansas for several, but Johnson cuts into points lead

RELATED: Full Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage

1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,183 points.
Last week: Kenseth persevered for an 11th-place finish at Kansas, but the leader of the Chase had his share of struggles in what was very much an up-and-down day that saw him lead 21 laps. A pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 145 sent Kenseth back to 30th place. On Lap 225, Kenseth was in 31st place but over the remainder of the race, he was able to pick up 20 spots and finish in 11th.
What he said: "I feel lucky for not being wrecked. And I feel really fortunate to still be leading the points. It was not the day we wanted -- both the last two weeks. We struggled a little bit and still salvaged -- it could have been worse."
Outlook: In 28 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, seven top-fives and 14 top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Kenseth ranks sixth out of 58 drivers with an average place of 14.3. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is second in the standings with 2,180 points.
Last week: Johnson also had a bit of an uneven day, even though he finished in sixth place at Kansas and cut into Kenseth's points lead. He started the race third and led for six laps. However, as Johnson committed to pit road on Lap 87, a caution came out for debris, forcing Johnson to roll through pit road to keep from getting penalized. That cost Johnson track position as he restarted 17th. Five-Time seemed to have problems on the numerous restarts throughout the race but was able to gather momentum and move up the board on extended green-flag runs. He even lost power briefly on the final lap, costing him a top-five finish, but he recovered to finish in sixth place.
What he said: "It's gratifying, for sure. It was nice to beat the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth). The No. 18 (Kyle Busch) had some trouble. There has been some separation there and the guys I was around in points and I got a couple on the No. 20, so that's good. All in all, it was a good day."
Outlook: In 24 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson has six wins, 11 top-fives, 15 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Johnson ranks first out of 58 drivers with an average place of 8.1. He finished 22nd in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

3. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is third in the standings with 2,158 points.
Last week: After winning his first Coors Light Pole since 2006, Harvick was able to ride to Victory Lane at Kansas while leading a race-high 138 laps. His day, though, was not without a little struggle due to the 15 cautions in the race. A caution flag for debris on Lap 88 (just after he had pitted) put Harvick a lap down to the leader and forced him to take a wave-around pass to return to the lead lap. Crew chief Gil Martin decided to play track strategy during a caution on Lap 137 and had Harvick stay out of pit road to gain back track position. The move paid off as Harvick shot to the front and held the race lead on Lap 140. And even though Harvick had slid back to 17th place on Lap 165 (following a pit stop), he made it back up into the top five in no time.
What he said: "To sit on the pole and win the race is obviously a great weekend, and controlling our own destiny by doing that, putting ourselves closer to where we need to be with the championship race. We'll just keep having fun and keep doing what we're doing."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Harvick has two wins, three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Harvick ranks 19th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 18.3. He won the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is fourth in the standings with 2,151 points.
Last week: Gordon started the race 14th and by Lap 45 was in sixth place. He eventually climbed into the top five but bad luck struck when Gordon was making a green-flag pit stop and the caution flag came out for debris on Lap 88. He restarted in 28th place but made his way back through the field and was in seventh place on Lap 156. Later in the race, Gordon and Kurt Busch battled for track position and Gordon received a little contact from the No. 78 car, which led to a bit of a brief, but civil exchange between the two after the race, in which Busch finished second and Gordon finished third.
What he said: "To come out of here with a third-place finish, boy, I'm excited because we ran really good at Charlotte earlier this year, and I think our mile‑and‑a‑half program has gotten so much better since then. The big challenge is qualifying. We've got to qualify strong at Charlotte, and I know we're going to race good there."
Outlook: In 41 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gordon has five wins, 16 top-fives, 21 top-10s and eight poles. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Gordon ranks 10th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 15.7. He finished 35th in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 2,148 points.
Last week: Busch's struggles at Kansas continued. He started from the back of the field after having to go to his backup car following a wreck in a Saturday practice session. He narrowly avoided the fallout from Danica Patrick's opening lap wreck and just had problems finding a rhythm. Despite his problems, Busch was credited with leading Lap 145. But trouble eventually found Rowdy. He finished 34th after a late wreck, which you can watch below.
What he said: "We'll just have to work hard. We'll just have to keep doing what we've done and getting us to this point all year long and that's been consistency. And every other track except Kansas seems to be able to bode well for us, so we'll see what happens."
Outlook: In 19 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch has eight top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Busch ranks second out of 58 drivers with an average place of 9.9. He finished 38th in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 2,139 points.
Last week: It wasn't the best of weeks for Biffle at Kansas, a track where he has two Cup wins. He qualified 26th and struggled with his car like several other drivers in the field. The end result was a 13th-place finish that saw Biffle maintain sixth place in the standings. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We weren't very good all weekend. I am really happy with a 13th-place finish to be honest. We fought hard to get that. I drove hard and we had about a 30th-place car and finished 13th with it, so I am pretty happy with that.”
Outlook:
In 21 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Biffle has five top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Biffle ranks eighth out of 58 drivers with an average place of 14.6. He finished 31st in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

7. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is seventh in the standings with 2,136 points.
Last week: After wrecking in a Saturday practice, Busch had to start from the rear of the field (just like his brother, Kyle) after turning to his backup car. Unlike his brother, though, Kurt did not have any big in-race issues. His car showed plenty of speed throughout the race as he turned in an impressive run, working his way through the field and all the way up to a second-place finish.
What he said: "I'm just so proud of this team, the way these guys have worked all year. They deserve a win, and sorry I couldn't deliver a win for them today."
Outlook: In 26 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch one win, six top-fives and seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Busch ranks 17th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 17.3. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is eighth in the standings with 2,129 points.
Last week: Dale Jr. qualified sixth at Kansas and was running strong out of the gate as he was in fourth-place on Lap 9 and moved into second place on Lap 42. He spent much of the first half of the race in the top five, and restarted in fourth place on Lap 207. However, he spun his tires and dropped to 12th place before working his way up to an eight-place finish.
What he said: "Man, fast car, but I don’t know, we needed some longer green-flag runs. Our car was really fast once the tires were warm and we got some green-flag laps, but the track was real slick on this new tire and it didn’t seem like we could get very far before the yellows started flying. ... But we’ve climbed nicely out of the cellar and working our way up. We need to keep doing that and we'll see where it all shakes out.”
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has five top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 24th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 20.3. He finished 39th in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

9. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is ninth in the standings with 2,128 points.
Last week: Bowyer qualified 22nd and spent a good chunk of the race outside of the top 10. Like several other drivers, Bowyer struggled with a tight handling car throughout the entire race. The Kansas native did work his way into the top five on Lap 210, but eventually dropped out of the top 10 and finished in 14th place.
What he said: "We had a pretty crazy day with a lot of cautions. Once we got some track position I thought we were pretty good. The 5-hour Energy Toyota had speed and we did a great job getting up toward the front, but as the weather and track conditions changed we struggled a little bit getting the car to turn in the center of the corner."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bowyer has one win, two top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Bowyer ranks 15th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 17.0. He finished eighth in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

10. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 10th in the standings with 2,124 points.
Last week: Logano started the race fifth and put together a strong run at Kansas that saw him hold the lead for 33 laps and run in the top 10 for much of the afternoon. He earned a fourth-place finish. Logano had a strong car on restarts and that helped him gain spots throughout the numerous restarts in the race. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "It was pretty crazy out there. Every restart you had to be so aggressive to pass people because that was your best shot to pass them and everyone realized it. There wasn’t much grip out there and everyone was doing that and you are going to have a crash. We proved that fact multiple times."
Outlook: In nine career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Logano has three top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Logano ranks seventh out of 58 drivers with an average place of 14.3. He finished fifth in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

11. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is 11th in the standings with 2,123 points.
Last week: Starting from the ninth position, Edwards spent much of the first half of the race running in the top 10. And while he would eventually find himself in 24th place on Lap 195, Edwards worked his way through the field to climb as high as a third-place position on Lap 240. He would slip a bit but passed Jimmie Johnson on the final lap to finish fifth.
What he said: "I don't know if we actually deserved to finish that well, as much as I wanted to finish better than that. We struggled. Holy moly that track is tough."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Edwards has five top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Edwards ranks ninth out of 58 drivers with an average place of 15.0. He finished 11th in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

12. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 12th in the standings with 2,110 points.
Last week: This was not the day Newman was hoping for at Kansas. Starting 17th, Newman struggled to find a rhythm on the 1.5-mile track. The big blow to Newman came on Lap 136 when Justin Allgaier spun and hit into Newman. He was out of the race for a significant stretch and wound up completing just 188 of the 267 laps, resulting in a 35th-place finish, the worst among the Chase drivers at Kansas. See video of that incident below. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "There's not much to say other than we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in an accident not of our making."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Newman has four top-fives, nine top-10s and nine poles. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Newman ranks 18th out of 58 drivers with an average place of 18.1. He finished sixth in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.

13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,100 points.
Last week: Kahne started 15th and finished 15th, spending much of the race in the top 20. He was even in the top five for a brief time. However, the constant cautions and restarts really hindered Kahne's ability to sustain momentum.
What he said: Kahne was unavailable for comment.
Outlook:
In 19 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne has four wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at Charlotte, Kahne ranks third out of 58 drivers with an average place of 11.8. He finished second in the first 2013 race at Charlotte.