News & Media

Bowyer, Kahne still hanging on to hope

October 29, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Both drivers will need significant help to have a chance at winning Chase title

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- At first glance, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski have turned the Chase for the Sprint Cup into a two-man battle.

It's the five-time champ in a Chevrolet vs. the rising star in Dodge's last hurrah.

Clint Bowyer, however, is still lurking and Kasey Kahne is still looking to pick up the pieces should catastrophe should strike the leaders.

In reality, that's what it might take.

"I still feel like we have a chance because of the way points are. But we're a ways out. I wish we were within 15 or 20. I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."


Bowyer entered Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in a precarious position, fourth in points, 25 behind the leader Keselowski. With a fifth-place effort, he climbed to third in points, 26 behind Johnson, the new leader.

Kahne also moved up a spot in the standings and now sits 29 points back of Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota was strong enough to dominate much of the race at Martinsville. He led four times for 151 laps, including 112 in a row, from Lap 238 to 349. Only Johnson led more times (8) and for more laps (193).

If he struggled at all, it was on pit road. His most unfortunate incident came with 150 laps to go when he stalled the car and lost track position all the way back to 18th.

"Man, I thought we had a car capable of winning," Bowyer said. "We lost track position when they beat us out of the pits there and I never could regain it.

"But it is what it is. It's a team effort and it's the team that got us here. It was a good day for us -- and a lot of fun out there. We led laps and did what we wanted to do [although] we just came up short from winning."

Bowyer restarted seventh with five laps to go but got past Keselowski and Gordon to gain valuable points -- although it required contact with Gordon (seventh on Sunday, sixth in the Chase) to do so.

"I was door-to-door with him and he just turned left to block me and I was already there," Bowyer said. "I hit the brakes and wheel-hopped. I tried to stay off of him. It was a bad deal right there."

Kahne started 15th and was a consistent mover. He led the race from laps 366 through 377 and was in hot pursuit of Johnson and Kyle Busch in the final laps.

"We had to battle pretty hard. But luckily all the Hendrick Motorsports cars were pretty good today," Kahne said. "We ended up third, which is my best run in a long time here, and I felt pretty good all day."

In fact, Kahne had not finished that high at Martinsville, since a second-place showing in April 2005.

Despite three consecutive top-10 finishes -- and five in the seven Chase races to date -- Kahne knows his status as a title contender is tenuous at best.

"We gained a point [at Martinsville]," he said. "If we weren't [already in contention] this week, then we probably aren't next week.

"I still feel like we have a chance because of the way points are. Denny [Hamlin, with an electrical problem] lost tons of points just by things that happen in racing. It's part of the sport. So, yes, we definitely still have a shot. But we're a ways out. I wish we were within 15 or 20. I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."

"Anything can happen," said Johnson who won from the pole for his fourth victory of the season on Sunday. "[Keselowski and I] could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion. You never know. You've got to go race the race."

Johnson conceded that Hamlin dropping 49 points behind in the standings will improve his race management this week at Texas Motor Speedway.

"The focus becomes a little more precise on the 2 car [Keselowski]," Johnson said.

"At Martinsville, I could see where the 11 [Hamlin] was most of the time, wondering where the 2 was [rallying from a 32nd starting spot]. Now, with the gap we have back to third, [I'll be] focused on the 2 [but] well aware of where the 15 [Bowyer] or the 5 [Kahne] is."