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Driver Reports: Points picture could get shakeup

October 15, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Points picture could get shakeup
Bowyer makes small gain, but Talladega looms for Chase drivers

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 2,225 points.
Last week: It took the No. 20 team some time to get the Toyota at a setup that suited the driver. Good thing Saturday night's race was 500 miles. With time to get the car right, Kenseth's machine was running well just in time to make a late charge through the field. After starting 20th, Kenseth extended his points lead over by Jimmie Johnson by one after finishing third. He has a four-point edge midway through the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
What he said: "In the big picture, it was a great night. We have to be able to run in the top five every night, and tonight we definitely had a top-five car … and it just took all night to get there. We just need to get out of Talladega and then hopefully we can go to Martinsville and qualify a little better and have some better track position to work with."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Kenseth has one win, five top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Kenseth ranks first out of 60 drivers with an average place of 14.1. He finished eighth in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is second in the standings with 2,221 points.
Last week: A late caution Saturday night at Charlotte cost Johnson a chance at the points lead. The No. 48 Chevrolet had led 129 of the past 130 laps when the race's fourth caution came out on Lap 308. Johnson was third off pit road after stops, and spun his tires on the restart. He rallied to finish fourth, but missed out on potential bonus points for winning the race and leading the most laps (Johnson led 130, Kasey Kahne led 138).
What he said: "If we could have come out second (off pit road) and start on the front row, I think it would have been a much different result for us, but it didn't happen."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Johnson has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Talladega, Johnson ranks 11th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 17.5. He finished fifth in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

3. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is third in the standings with 2,196 points.
Last week: One week removed from his third victory of the season, Harvick steered his No. 29 Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish. Prior to the race, he nearly won his second consecutive Coors Light Pole after having a seven-year gap before taking P1 at Kansas last week. But Jeff Gordon knocked off Harvick's best time, relegating the Richard Childress Racing driver to starting second. Harvick didn't gain or lose much ground in the points standings, considering nine of the top 11 finishers were Chase drivers.
What he said: "We got a decent finish, but our car was terrible all night. The restart went our way there at the end and we were able to get a decent finish out of it. We survived."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Harvick has one win, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Talladega, Harvick ranks 21st out of 60 drivers with an average place of 19.0. He finished 40th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is fourth in the standings with 2,189 points.
Last week: Starting from the Coors Light Pole position, Gordon gave himself a chance to challenge for a win during his final pit stop Saturday night. The No. 24 team took two tires, which lined Gordon up second for the final restart on Lap 312 (of 334). The veteran lost ground over the final 22 laps, though, as he struggled with grip. His seventh-place finish marked his fourth top-10 in five Chase races.
What he said: "You want to take advantage of that No. 1 pit stall but we didn’t have enough cautions to do that. We need more cautions. We needed more cautions because when we had the track position, we seemed to be able to maintain it, but once we lost it there was no getting it back. And all those green flag stops just didn’t really suit us."
Outlook: In 41 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Gordon has six wins, 15 top-fives, 19 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Talladega, Gordon ranks 18th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 18.4. He finished 11th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 2,188 points.
Last week: With the stain of Kansas behind him, Busch righted his No. 18 team at Charlotte. The driver was coming off a terrible weekend, where he wrecked and finished 34th, dropping him well off the pace for the championship. So Saturday's fifth-place effort certainly helped to right the ship, although that finish was still behind points leader Matt Kenseth and second-place Jimmie Johnson. Still, Busch had to rally with a car that seemed ill-handling at times -- and appeared to be blowing up on the final laps, as Busch radioed to his team. The team also overcame a miscommunication on a pit stop, which you can watch below.
What he said: "It's good to finish in the top five, but it certainly stinks. We're not good enough. It's frustrating, man. I'm beating myself up every week trying to figure out what I got to do to be better, and I don't know what it is. I work hard through practice. I work hard through the week. I study film. I do everything I need to do -- but it's not paying off."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Busch has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Busch ranks 22nd out of 60 drivers with an average place of 19.1. He finished 37th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 2,167 points.
Last week: Biffle was among the drivers to struggle with tight handling at the Bank of America 500, and he limped to a 16th-place finish. It was the opposite from what happened the week before at Kansas, where Biffle qualified horribly and managed to finish better than expected. At Charlotte, the Biff qualified third before staggering down the stretch. He's 58 points back of leader Matt Kenseth with five races to go. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: Biffle was unavailable for comment.
Outlook: In 21 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Biffle has two top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Biffle ranks 28th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 21.4. He finished 36th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

7. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is seventh in the standings with 2,166 points.
Last week: Chase drivers claimed nine of the top 11 spots Saturday night, but Kurt Busch was not among that group. Instead, the driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet took home 14th. The 30-point effort was extra frustrating due to Busch's most recent finish at Charlotte (third in the Coca-Cola 600) and his performance last week at Kansas (second). The Outlaw maintained his hold on seventh in the standings, but he lost ground on everybody -- except Greg Biffle -- above him. And now, Clint Bowyer is just four points behind Busch in eighth place.
What he said: "We lost the handling of the car and it was a struggle the entire night. We had an upbeat feeling after two strong practices on Friday but nothing really materialized for us to make a charge. It's disappointing to finish where we did (14th) after having a number of solid runs on the mile-and-a-halfs."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Busch has six top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Busch ranks third out of 60 drivers with an average place of 15.1. He finished 30th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 2,162 points.
Last week: With the top seven in the standings unchanged, Bowyer's ascension from ninth place to eighth place in the points race makes for one of just four changes in this week's points picture. Bowyer moved up one spot thanks to his 11th-place effort at Charlotte, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 15th. In a 334-lap race largely free of incidents, Bowyer mainly stayed out of the way, although he ran in the top 10 from Laps 200-300.
What he said: "Man, when it isn't your day it just isn't your day. We should have had a top-five, but something happened under the hood with about 30 (laps) to go and it just killed us. We were looking so good. I nursed it there at the end."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer has two wins, four top-fives and seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Bowyer ranks 18th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 21.2. He finished 18th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is ninth in the standings with 2,159 points.
Last week: When Earnhardt Jr. surged to the lead of the Bank of America 500 on Lap 30, the Charlotte crowd roared its approval. That same cheer shot up when Junior took the lead a second time on Lap 91. Those two moments were the highlights of the night for the popular driver, who struggled with command of his car late Saturday and finished 15th. The other notable Junior moment came during his first time leading, when his temperatures soared due to debris on his grille, forcing the driver to give up the lead to Kasey Kahne and try to get the debris off during the pass.
What he said: "The car just got really tight. Something in the setup moved, but the car was real quick at the start of the race. We were just kind of real happy with the speed. I don't know what happened. We lost a rubber out of the right-rear spring or something like that. We are just kind of trying to figure out what is going on."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt Jr. has five wins, nine top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. ranks second out of 60 drivers with an average place of 15.1. He finished 17th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

10. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is 10th in the standings with 2,158 points.
Last week: It's tough to imagine Edwards rebounding from his Dover disaster to challenge for the championship. So although his Charlotte run produced a 10th-place finish, the benefit of that is more momentum for the 2014 season, or learning something for the Roush Fenway Racing driver's 1.5-mile track package. A small bright side is that, with the showing, Edwards moved up from 11th place to 10th.
What he said: "It was a long night. We're fortunate to finish 10th. I hate to say that, but we just weren't very good. It was really hard to pass, but not for everybody. This is my kind of race track. It's aging, but we just couldn't make anything happen."
Outlook: In 18 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Edwards has two top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Edwards ranks 39th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 24.0. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

11. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 11th in the standings with 2,150 points.
Last week: Logano's night started going wrong when, following the second caution on Lap 84, the driver left the pit box with missing lug nuts. He had to come back down pit road the next go-round. Considering there were only two more cautions in the 334-lap race, Logano never got the chance to make up those lost laps. He finished 18th, the worst showing among Chase drivers, and was two laps down. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "It seems like you end up saying this a lot sometimes, but we really had a car that was better than where we finished. I think we had about an eighth to 10th-place car tonight and we finished 18th with it. That is frustrating and we need to work on making these days better. We were just too far off at the start of the race and by the time we were able to get the car to my liking, we were already a couple of laps down. Then, you get no cautions and you just don’t have the chance to make those laps up."
Outlook:
In nine career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Logano has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Logano ranks 14th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 17.8. He finished 35th in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

12. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 12th in the standings with 2,147 points.
Last week: Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet was great on the long runs, and there were plenty of those Saturday. His machine was so bad on the short run, though, that the ground lost during those restarts was difficult to make up once his car was humming. Newman finished eighth after starting seventh. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We struggled all night on the short run. Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was really good as the run went on; it would come to life 20 or 25 laps into the run. But by then, we'd lost track position and couldn't get it back. We weren't able to capitalize on the speed we had in the car."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Newman has four top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Talladega, Newman ranks 30th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 21.6. He finished 32nd in the first 2013 race at Talladega.

13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,144 points.
Last week: Another 1.5-mile track, another runner-up finish for Kahne. He's so far removed from the championship battle that race wins are the next logical goal, and he nearly picked one up at Charlotte. But a thrilling late battle with Brad Keselowski (see video below) saw Kahne slip from the lead, back to second, up front again and then into second for good on Lap 326. Kahne also finished runner-up in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and again at Las Vegas and Kansas.
What he said: "Yeah, we had a great race. I was on two (tires) and (Keselowski) was on four and he could just move around a little bit better. I was trying to move around, but I was just a little bit on the tight side with the front end, then I would get loose if I got the front working. I was doing all I could and felt pretty good, but he made some nice moves and just really had some speed there late in the race and was able to get by me."
Outlook: In 19 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Kahne has four three top-fives, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Talladega, Kahne ranks 26th out of 60 drivers with an average place of 21.1. He finished 42nd in the first 2013 race at Talladega.