Most popular Chase contenders going wrong way in standings

Updated: October 20, 2008, 2:03 PM ET

Daniel Plassmann/US Presswire

Dale Earnhardt Jr. smacks the wall in Turn 2 Saturday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He finished 39th.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Oh, well, another year, another Chase that won't get rave reviews from the public.

NASCAR's two biggest names and most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, slipped further behind in the playoffs in Saturday night's Bank of America 500, the halfway point in the Chase.

And even NASCAR chairman Brian France often has conceded that the success of the Chase hangs on the big names being competitive.

Earnhardt was "just riding," saving his car for the finish, when his right-front tire blew, sending him crashing into the wall. He wound up 39th and dropped 354 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon appeared to be near breaking out of his season-long winless streak when, after pitting out of sequence, he led 47 laps in mid-race. But subsequent decisions to take four tires on pit stops dropped him out of the hunt. He finished eighth and now is 245 points behind Johnson.

"No warning; it just popped," Earnhardt said of the tire that went before even one-third of the race was complete. "We might have run over something. I was running about 90 percent, really …

"It's pretty disappointing, because I was just taking it pretty easy."

Gordon smacked the wall twice in the first six laps and pancaked the side of his car. But he recovered to take the lead on Lap 204 after the front-runners had pitted, and his Chevrolet performed so well in the clean air up front that he led until he had to pit for fuel on Lap 251.

"I know we were out of sequence, but man, it's amazing how great the car is out front and how terrible it is six cars back," Gordon said.

Thirteen laps later, Gordon chose to pit under another caution when he could have stayed out and retaken the lead. Then, under the final caution, he took four tires while most front-runners took two and eventual winner Jeff Burton took none.

Of the four-tire stop that essentially conceded any shot at a win, Gordon said, "Those other guys had quite a bit fresher tires. We had to come in. My car wasn't good on two tires [earlier] when we put them on, and I knew we weren't going to be out first [if we took two that time], because the guys ahead of us were going to come out."

Although both Gordon and Earnhardt maintained their spots in the standings, eighth and 10th, respectively, their point deficits are enormous, considering that there are only five races remaining.

-- Ed Hinton

Nationwide Series: Same old story for Joe Gibbs Racing

The 18th verse was the same as the first 17 for Joe Gibbs Racing. Yes, another Nationwide Series race meant another JGR victory, this one Friday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the Dollar General 300.

Kyle Busch completed a season sweep at the track, although not a JGR sweep. When Busch won at the 1.5-mile facility in May, he was driving for Braun Racing. It was the only Toyota victory by a team other than JGR this season, but it still required one of the team's drivers.

Busch did little to build suspense, leading four times for 137 of the 200 laps as he won by .661 second over Jeff Burton, who failed to earn a win in his final Nationwide start of 2008.

Still, the biggest winner on the night was a driver who never got close to Victory Lane. Clint Bowyer didn't lead a lap, but his fourth-place finish moved him yet another step closer to the series crown.

Carl Edwards finished fifth and wasn't a factor for the win, either, having led just one lap. That lap earned Edwards five bonus points and left both Bowyer and Edwards with 160 points on the evening.

And that was what mattered to Bowyer, who maintains a 196-point lead over Edwards, last year's champion. With only four races remaining -- the series is off this weekend before returning to action at Memphis on Oct. 25 -- Bowyer's margin for error continues to grow.

Bowyer struggled the first half of the race but steadily improved his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. That was disconcerting where Edwards was concerned.

"Clint and those guys had the save of the year right there. I was getting real excited," Edwards said. "I thought they were gonna keep running like they were, but they did a good job and they came back. My guys did a good job too. … I don't think anybody had anything for Kyle. That one time I got behind him and ran second, and he took off and I couldn't see him anymore."

Another plus for Bowyer was that his No. 2 team now leads the owners' championship standings by one point over JGR's No. 20 after Joey Logano wound up 14th after hitting the wall. He led twice for 32 laps but isn't running as consistently in the series as he did his first handful of races.

"Man, that turned out to be one of the longest nights of my life. It was tough trying to come back with a broken race car," Logano said. "I feel bad for the guys. It looked really good for us early on. I started out pretty tight, but then I was able to get in the lead and stay there for a lot of laps. Then we tried to loosen it up a bit and went a little too far, so we fell back on the next restart. But we had a good handle on where we wanted to go from there.

"Then, all of a sudden, I went outside to pass the 10 [Dave Blaney], and I have no idea what happened. It felt like a big gust of wind took the nose right up into the wall or something. It was weird. After that, we just tried the best we could. That's one of the hardest things to do in racing."

Busch made things look easy on his end and shrugged off criticism for how he handled several late-race restarts. Competitors felt he was brake-checking to stall their momentum, but in-car telemetry on the ESPN broadcast showed that wasn't the case.

In the Sprint Cup Series drivers' meeting Saturday, NASCAR president Mike Helton also cleared Busch of wrongdoing, saying some spotters -- and drivers lined up behind Busch -- simply anticipated Busch taking off before it was required.

"You know, you're not supposed to leave any room behind you, or in front of you, I should say, on Burton's part. He was back there about a car length, a car length and a half or so," Busch said. "And I could see him carrying up to my rear bumper, and he had the momentum and I wasn't going to let him have the momentum on the restarts 'cause he'd pull low and pass me getting into [Turn] 1.

"So, I waited until he got to my rear bumper, and then I went. He had to stop, and I went. That's what jumbled up the field back there and everything. I apologize to those guys back there, but I got a race to win, too."

-- Mark Ashenfelter

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Jayski Podcast

We look back at Chase race No. 5 with winner Jeff Burton. Plus, ESPN's Rusty Wallace tells us who would win a real fight between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.
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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Jeff Burton

Burton

  • Jeff Burton won the Bank Of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday. He posted his 21st career victory in his 506th career race. It was his first win in the 2008 Chase and fifth top-10 finish in the five races so far in the Chase.
  • Burton posted his second victory of the 2008 season. He also won the first Bristol race. Richard Childress Racing scored its third Sprint Cup victory in 2008. The last Lowe's victory for RCR came in the 1993 Coca-Cola 600 by Dale Earnhardt. .
  • Burton won the race from the fourth-place starting position. He led twice for 58 laps, including the final 57.
  • This was the ninth win for Chevrolet in 2008. Toyota has 10 wins, Ford has eight and Dodge has four.
  • Burton has scored 25 top-15 finishes in 31 races this season, the most of any driver. He has scored top-10 finishes in the past six races.
  • Jimmie Johnson (sixth) has scored top-10 finishes in the past seven races. He made his 250th Cup start in Saturday's race.
  • Johnson has led in 25 of the 31 races this season, more than any other driver. He has led at least one lap in the past 14 races at Lowe's, the longest current streak. Johnson failed to lead in his first race at Lowe's in October 2001 but has led in every race since.
  • Kevin Harvick (13th) has been running at the finish in the past 75 races, the longest current streak by any driver.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Chevrolets, two Dodges, three Fords and one Toyota.
  • Kasey Kahne (second) made his 175th Cup start in Saturday's race.
  • Kyle Busch (fourth) posted his best finish in the 2008 Chase.
  • Tony Raines (40th) made his 125th Cup start.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) has gone 36 races without a victory, his longest streak between wins.
  • Two of the top five finishers were Chase drivers. Five of the top 10 were Chasers.
  • Greg Biffle won the first two Chase races. Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas, and Tony Stewart won at Talladega.
  • Seven of the 12 Chase drivers earned lap-leader bonus points at Lowe's.
  • Four of the 12 Chase drivers changed positions after Lowe's.
  • Carl Edwards (33rd) dropped from second to fourth in the Chase standings, now 168 points behind Johnson after suffering ignition problems.
  • The top three drivers (Johnson, Burton and Biffle) are separated by 86 points.
  • Bobby Labonte (17th) has been running at the finish in his past 20 races at Lowe's, the longest current streak.

Nationwide Series

Kyle Busch

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Dollar General 300 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Friday. It was his 20th career win in his 135th career start and his ninth victory in 27 races in 2008. Busch tied Kevin Harvick for the second-most wins in a single season (nine) behind Sam Ard, who scored 10 wins in 1983.
  • Busch became the fifth driver to sweep both Nationwide races at Lowe's. He joins Harry Gant (1987), Rob Moroso (1989), Jeff Gordon (1992) and Mark Martin (1996). Busch posted his fourth Lowe's victory in his 11th race there. He started the race 16th.
  • Busch led 137 of the 200 laps, the most of all drivers. It was the 12th Nationwide Series race in 2008 in which Busch led the most laps.
  • This marked the 19th victory for Toyota in 2008. Ford and Chevrolet each have six wins, and Dodge has none.
  • Toyota clinched the 2008 manufacturers' championship at Kansas.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing posted its 26th Nationwide Series victory and 18th of the 2008 season. JGR has scored 28 combined victories in 2008 -- 18 in Nationwide and 10 in Sprint Cup.
  • Points leader Clint Bowyer finished fourth, posting his 26th top-10 finish of the season. He now leads second-place Carl Edwards by 196 points.
  • David Ragan, who finished 12th, posted his 20th top-10 finish of the season, ranking second to only Bowyer.
  • Mike Bliss finished 19th in the Phoenix Chevrolet of James Finch. This was James Finch's 500th NASCAR race.
  • Justin Allgaier finished 34th in his series debut with Penske Racing. Allgair started 14th in the race.
  • Richard Childress Racing took the owners' points lead by one over the No. 20 of JGR. After Watkins Glen, the No. 20 of JGR led the owners' standings by 282 points. The team was penalized 150 points at Michigan.
  • Bryan Clauson, who finished 30th, was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • The top 10 consisted of three Toyotas, four Chevrolets and three Fords.

-- Racing Resources