5 October 2010
Biffle wins at Kansas, Johnson's back on top
Greg Biffle was unbeatable over the final laps at Kansas, but Jimmie Johnson's dogged second place puts him top of the Sprint Cup points, as the Chase tightens up.
A chill was in the air in Kansas as the Sprint Cup Chase contenders made ready for the green flag: a reminder that its getting late in the year that this is the third race in the Chase, and only once since the format's inception has the eventual champion not been in the top two post-Kansas. Everyone was highly motivated for success this afternoon - time was running out.
Kasey Kahne led the field across the starting line, and for the first two dozen laps there was the usual sorting-out of the running order as cars who had fared poorly - or flatteringly too well - found their natural level. Greg Biffle and Paul Menard were among those who fell back initially, while Jeff Gordon took up residence in second and duly took over the lead from Kahne on lap 28.
Gordon had worked up a 3.5s lead by the time the first caution came out on lap 41, trigged by Juan Montoya hitting the wall harmlessly in turn 3. The yellow gave everyone the opportunity for a well-timed pit stop, and at the restart the top five were Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Jimmie Johnson, who had been working his way up from a grid position of 21st, suddenly found himself back down there again after getting boxed in on pit lane; his car was looking distinctly average this afternoon.
The restart only lasted six laps before another caution was out on lap 52: this time, contact between David Reutimann and Kyle Busch had sent Reutimann spinning in turn 2, although he managed to keep the double zero off the wall and the field managed to avoid hitting him at the same time. But he still needed an extended pit stop that put him three laps down, and driver and team were furious for what they saw as an intentional act by Busch. Something would have to be done to get payback ...
Matt Kenseth took the lead from Gordon at the restart on lap 56, and Gordon soon lost second place as well to Tony Stewart who went on to successfully challenge Kenseth for the lead on lap 81. Further back, Jimmie Johnson was continuing to slog his way through the field, and on lap 76 passed a sluggish Denny Hamlin for 15th place, while another Chase contender - Clint Bowyer - was plummeting backwards through the field to 35th place. He was soon able to pick up speed again but now he was struggling to stay on the lead lap - just another rotten day for Bowyer in his 2010 Chase campaign.
Pits stops were due, and there was no convenient caution this time; after the stops had cycled through, Stewart was in the lead ahead of Biffle, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton and the race was over half distance.
By this point Kyle Busch was running in the top ten and had probably put thoughts of his earlier collision with David Reutimann out of his mind. But Reutimann hadn't, and on lap 154 it was time for that payback. Reutimann sent the 18 into the wall, causing major damage to the car: Reutimann paid for it by spinning himself.
Almost all of the drivers pitted again under the ensuing yellow - Kyle making an extended stay on pit road to repair the considerable damage to his car, but the team managed to work it so that he stayed on the lead lap, albeit back in 22nd. While the car was running, it wasn't going to win any beauty prizes - or many championship points. A damage limitation exercise kept Kyle circulating, but he made up only a single place between here and the end of the race, and duly ended up the worst placed of all the Chase drivers - a costly outcome indeed.
Kevin Harvick had stayed off pit road along with Mark Martin (who had started the afternoon being sent to the back of the field after having an engine change) and Ryan Newman; Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle were the first of the stoppers, in fourth and fifth place as the track went green again on lap 159, but racing only lasted five laps before a fourth caution of the afternoon came out for a heavy hit against the wall by Kasey Kahne in turn 4.
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