Last week’s race at Talladega was every bit the wild card anticipated of the Chase and more.
Only four races remain and the picture has become much clearer with some of the top names like Jimmie Johnson (-50 pts), Kevin Harvick (-26) and Kyle Busch (-40) tumbling backwards with poor finishes and likely racing themselves out of contention.
Johnson, who is attempting to expand upon his never done before 5 championships, was the biggest mystery of last Sunday. His tandem partner for the race was Dale Earnhardt Jr and between them, they had the fastest two cars. Add in their plate racing excellence and you should have the make-up a duo that should have finished in the top five.
But for some reason they got cute and outsmarted themselves. They thought by waiting in the back of the pack for the entire race they could avoid trouble and then make their move with five to six laps to go. What they didn’t figure out in their whole master plan is that a few cautions in the final laps would hurt their chances of getting up to speed quicker and being better than everyone.
At the end of the day Johnson finished 26th and fell 50 points behind leader Carl Edwards, who used a similar cautious tactic, but made his move earlier. The end result was an 11th-place finish for Edwards, which he considers like a win. Matt Kenseth finished 18th, but still put a separation between himself and his closest competitors, other teammate Edwards.
The two of them have a nice head start going into Martinsville this week and they’re going to need it because it hasn’t been their best track. Kenseth is currently 14 points behind while Brad Keselowski is 18 behind with Tony Stewart 19 back.
Jeff Gordon, needing a top-3 finish to get back into the Chase race, had his season smacked away by a kid that he helped win the Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne was taught how to run the draft by Gordon in the Gatorade Duels. Gordon took the rookie under his wing and the kid goes on to win the 500 the following week using all of Jeff’s insights,
On the final restart, Gordon had been shuffled away from his partner, Mark Martin, and Bayne had lost his too. Bayne and Gordon formed an immediate alliance through the radio and with the way Gordon was racing on the final laps, he looked to have the car to beat with Bayne‘s help.
Gordon was as intense and daring as I’ve seen in a while and he was moving up. There’s no doubt in my mind that he would have caught and passed the leaders.
But then Bayne got team orders on the radio that he was to run with Kenseth, who had lost his partner, and not Gordon who he agreed to run with. Roush Racing helps build the Wood Brothers car that Bayne drives, cars that are both Ford’s while Gordon drives a Chevy.
With no one pushing him, Gordon fell back all the way to 27th and essentially slammed the door on his season. Bayne was distraught afterwards and tweeted several apologies, but the damage was done. The teacher got taken by the student which will probably make Gordon rethink who he shares his wealth of wisdom with in the future.
It may sound as though the Chase is down to just a few drivers, but because Edwards and Kenseth have run so poorly at Martinsville over the years, this almost becomes as big a wild card race for them as Talladega was for everyone else.
Kevin Harvick won this race in the spring and could shave off all kinds of points before heading into the final three races. Johnson is a six-time winner on the track, Stewart has won twice and Keselowski can drive on anything flat.
Edwards finished 18th in the spring while Kenseth finished sixth. In 22 starts, Kenseth only has two top-5 finishes at Martinsville.
Look for the consistent Martinsville regulars to do well again and make up some ground on both Edwards and Kenseth this week.