Nascar At Fontana After Thoughts: California Takes Its Toll on Many Chasers

Rusty NormanTony Stewart won the Pepsi Max 400 Sunday afternoon, but the Auto Club Speedway in California took its toll on many of the Chasers. For some, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was bad enough for some to think they just may be out of contention for winning the Sprint Cup Championship for 2010.

Those that suffered the biggest setbacks and expressed their disappointment immediately during the race were Greg Biffle and Kyle Bush both with blown engines. The “Biff” lost his engine early in the race and finished a disappointing 41st. It was a crushing blow to the #16 Roush/Fenway Ford team that entered the weekend with such high hopes and riding the “Big Mo” from their victory the week before. For Kyle, it was just another disappointment experienced during the Chase.

It was a shock to this fan that the Roush/Fenway Fords, in particular, had the problems they did and a surprise the Hendrick teams did as well as they did. It looked to me going into the weekend it would be the opposite and I did expect the Earnhardt/Ganassi teams to show a little more strength than they did.

Of course, several of the teams that struggled beat themselves in the pits and/or had ill handling cars, at least to begin the day. For some, the day only got worse and for others it just never got any better. (What that means is, they started out bad and never made much headway.)

Only five of the Chasers finished in the top ten and the rest finished twenty-first or worse. No matter how you look at it, it was a bad weekend for the ones outside the top ten and the separation in points is beginning to show a bit more now, it just remains to be seen if the other five have a bad day or two in the near future to tighten things back up.

Looking at the carnage for the Roush/Fenway teams a little closer shows the devastation of Greg Biffle’s #16 team, David Ragan’s 24th place finish after his late race run-in with Kurt Bush, Carl Edwards ignition problem causing him to finish 34th and Matt Kenseth’s “smoker” holding on for 30th place (which is one of those situations that could have been even worse.)

Kurt Bush wasn’t running all that well on the day and wasn’t in a very good position when David Ragan’s error in judgment put both of them in the wall late in the race. Although it didn’t cost him any places in the Chase, it did cost him some precious points and that’s what really hurt. With six races remaining in the Chase, he can’t afford any more setbacks. Sitting 140 points behind Jimmie Johnson doesn’t look good for the “Blue Deuce” unless misfortune steps in and helps him make up some major points.

Even though he finished 8th, Denny Hamlin struggled during most of the race. After the first pit stop, he fell back and, even though he moved back up to eighth by the end of the race, never looked comfortable. From this fan’s view, it’s not a good time for them to be “missing it” by as much as they’ve been missing it, if they want to overtake the #48 for the Championship. Although he is only 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson, he is only 18 points ahead of Kevin Harvick and just 49 points ahead of Jeff Gordon.

Speaking of Jeff Gordon, he ran better than he finished simply because he got caught entering pit road too fast. He was trying to press the envelope (not exceed it) and didn’t quite stay within the speed limit. That moved him back to 29th spot with only 15 laps to go. With help from a couple of cautions and some good adjustments and calls by crew chief, Steve Letarte, he managed to move back up to that ninth spot. He was disappointed and probably had a third to a fifth place car, but as it turned out, he managed to move up one more spot in the points to fourth place. (That’s a lot better than I thought he was going to do especially after that error in judgment.)

Even though the points had another major shake up at Fontana, the Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship remains a close one. With six races to go, it is still pretty much anyone’s in the top eight or nine to claim, (although those last two are really pressing their luck.) With the night race coming this weekend at Charlotte, it is still up in the air who may advance and who will falter.

If the five that finished in the top ten this last week have problems in the night race at Charlotte, there’s a very good chance the points will be shuffled once again and put a couple of teams right back in the hunt. That’s a scenario I know Kurt Bush, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards are hoping for and who knows… just because last weekend went the way it did doesn’t mean the other five in the top twelve couldn’t have the roles reversed this coming weekend.

Now, I’m not sayin’ things are going to tighten back up in the points… I’m just sayin’… it’s a possibility.

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

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