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Wild-card roulette spins again at Bristol

August 26, 2012, David Caraviello,

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kyle Busch moves into final Chase spot after Newman's woes drop him out of it

It was bad enough that he was sick, still battling a bug that had left him shivering with chills a week earlier at Michigan and that required him to take intravenous fluids again this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. But then Ryan Newman's car took a turn for the worse as well, in a crash that totaled not just his vehicle but also his tenuous hold on a postseason.

A cut tire and contact with Juan Montoya on Lap 191 left Newman spinning into Jeff Burton and sent the No. 39 car hard into the inside wall. The accident had effects that reached well beyond Bristol, given that it knocked Newman out of the second wild-card position and, with two weeks remaining in the regular season, helped Kyle Busch slip into the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Video: Newman's wild-card chances take a hit

"It keeps us still in it, because one of the other guys in the wild-card [hunt] didn't win it."


Bristol had a little bit of everything Saturday night, from helmet-throwing temper tantrums to fierce battles for the lead, and the wild-card standings were not left unaffected. While Denny Hamlin won to further entrench his position among the contenders for the top overall Chase seed, that second wild-card spot remained in upheaval, changing hands for the fourth time in five weeks. This time it was Newman, who had held it since Aug. 12 at Watkins Glen International and carried an 11-point lead into Bristol, giving it up to Busch, who claimed it for the first time since July 29 at Indianapolis.

"You'd rather have wins, so you're more stable with wins," Busch said after finishing sixth. "I think you have to get that second win if there's a Chase guy that falls out. Like, I think [Brad] Keselowski had a bad night [Saturday night], and [Tony] Stewart had a bad night [Saturday night], so if those guys fall out, they will have to rely on a wild-card spot, and then we're not looking too good."

Indeed, Keselowski and Stewart -- who each have three wins on the season -- had rough nights, and should either fall out of the top 10, the wild-card picture becomes decidedly more complicated. As it stands now, Kasey Kahne maintains a stranglehold on the first wild-card position by virtue of his two wins, a position he bolstered by rallying for a ninth-place finish on the Tennessee short track. It pulled him within 16 points of the now-10th-place Stewart. Then it's Busch, who holds down the second wild-card by 16 points over Jeff Gordon, 19 over Newman, 28 over Marcos Ambrose and 69 over Joey Logano, the other contenders with one victory apiece this season.

Video: Keselowski hits the wall | Kenseth turns Stewart

For any of those drivers, a second win would change everything, and virtually every one of them was in the mix Saturday night. Pocono winner Logano had a strong car early, leading 139 laps before finishing eighth. "This was the most frustrating race I think I've ever been a part of. You just couldn't do anything," he said. "I had a good car in the beginning of the race, and the track changed, and we tried to keep up with it. We just couldn't keep up with it and get the car as good as we needed it to be."

Watkins Glen winner Ambrose ran in the top 10 for much of the night, getting as high as third before finishing fifth. "I'm just trying hard," he said. "That's two top-fives in two weeks for us. It's been a great month."

Gordon, who won the second Pocono race, finished third. "It keeps us still in it, because one of the other guys in the wild-card [hunt] didn't win it," he said. "... We have two more good opportunities, Atlanta and Richmond, that we can definitely get wins at."

And then there was Carl Edwards, who stands 12th in points but is looking up at six other drivers in the wild-card race because he doesn't have a victory yet this season. He certainly made a run at it Saturday, leading 45 laps and pacing the field until Hamlin overtook him with 39 laps remaining. But Edwards had stayed out of the pits to get track position -- and was taking a gamble on fuel to do so -- and faded to a 22nd-place finish after his gas tank eventually ran dry.

Video: Final Laps | Post-Race Reactions

"All you can do is gamble like that," he said. "If we would have pitted when we should have pitted, we were going to run 10th or 15th anyway. We were just going to get fuel and the tires were done at the end, and that's all we had. I made the decision to stay out, which in hindsight that was the wrong decision because we probably would have finished better than we are right now, but I wanted a chance to win the race. If we would have had one more caution or a couple cautions and short runs, we were up there in a position to win this thing. You don't get those opportunities very often, so I had to take it."

The consolation is that Edwards' cars have been markedly faster since crew chief Chad Norris took over last month. He has two more chances -- next weekend at Atlanta, and then at a Richmond track where he led 206 laps in the spring and was in position to win until he was penalized for jumping a late restart.

"The car was OK, and I was really encouraged at Chad's strategy," Edwards said. "He did a really good job, and I'm ready for Atlanta. I'm excited about Atlanta, so we'll go there and go for another one."