Bristol puts dent in many teams' Chase hopes
Leave it to Bristol. With time running out to solidify a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, drivers are naturally going to get a little more aggressive.
But when that occurs within the confines of Bristol Motor Speedway's half-mile bull ring, the jostling creates fireworks and the place goes nuts -- as did, it would appear, several drivers.
On Saturday night, Dale Jarrett and Ryan Newman headlined a group of contenders who ran into trouble, and into one another. Kevin Harvick, who was caught up in Newman and Jarrett's mess, Carl Edwards and Elliott Sadler also brought dented cars home.
Always the fun-seeker, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- whose team is still in distant contention -- said he enjoyed watching the jostling going on behind him.
"There were people bouncing all over each other out there," he said.
The highlight, of course, was Newman and Jarrett going at it. On lap 301, Newman's No. 12 Dodge made contact with Jarrett's No. 88 Ford, sending Jarrett into the outside wall. Jarrett had recently dropped out of the top 10 in the points standings and, sitting 11th coming into Bristol, was looking to make up ground. With his rig wrecked, though, his hopes were dampened and his rage consumed.
It took 17 laps for Jarrett to catch the rear of Newman's No. 12 car. Once he did, Jarrett promptly returned the favor, sending Newman into the outside wall and out of the race.
"Mine was unintentional and his was intentional and that's all I'm saying," Newman said afterward. "NASCAR can do what they want with it. By no means did I purposely wreck Dale Jarrett. I was surprised and shocked when he later ran into us. I wasn't expecting it. I'm really disappointed."
NASCAR slapped Jarrett with a two-lap penalty, though Jarrett's hopes of making up ground in the points had long since gone out the window. Jarrett didn't comment after the race, his frustration evident. The veteran dropped three points to 14th in the standings. He's now 78 points out of 10th. Newman fell one spot from eighth to ninth, feeling little security with just 31 points separating him from 11th.
|“||By no means did I purposely wreck Dale Jarrett. I was surprised and shocked when he later ran into us. I wasn't expecting it. I'm really disappointed. ”|
|— Ryan Newman|
Newman and Jarrett were not the only casualties of their feud. After Jarrett sent Newman into the wall, Newman's car stopped in the path of Brian Vickers. Vickers slowed to miss the wreckage. Harvick was riding behind Vickers and went right to avoid hitting the slowing Vickers. Just as he did, Vickers began moving left and the impediment that was Newman's car quickly revealed itslef to Harvick. Seconds too late, however.
"Just got caught in the wreck there," Harvick said. "[I] turned down and thought I had the wreck cleared and [Vickers] popped left and I hit the No. 12."
Harvick was upset with the feuding drivers for creating the situation, but showed frustration toward his own team, too.
"Spotter never said nothing, so I wrecked," he said.
Harvick dropped two spots to 16th in the standings. And although the six cars ahead of him pose a daunting obstacle, so do the 122 points that separate him from a playoff berth.
It's a much less grim outlook for Sadler, who had a strong run going before crushing his fender on the final caution of the night and quickly losing ground to more aerodynamic cars.
"The right-front fender got knocked in on that last caution," Sadler's crew chief, Todd Parrott, said. " We got stuck on the outside and a few cars got by."
Sadler dropped to a 13th-place finish, which is exactly where he sits in the standings. Though that's a far cry from his perch at third not too long ago, the team remains upbeat and points out that the three cars ahead of it pose a more difficult task than the points spread.
"I'm sitting here looking at points and we're only 34 points out of 10th and we've got two races left," Parrott said. "It ain't over yet. The fat lady hasn't sung yet."
For Edwards, the struggles were mostly his own doing -- but they were relatively minor as the Roush racer managed to come home 24th. In fact, thanks to Newman's accident, Edwards managed to improve one spot to eighth in the standings. His concern following wrecking Jeff Green and returning some contact to Kyle Petty after receiving some several laps earlier was his reputation -- not his Chase outlook.
"I hate it for Jeff Green," he said after he was unable to get an ill-handling car to stop in time to prevent punting Green. " It was my fault and he was real upset about it."
Even though Edwards was concerned Petty might be angry with him, too, he said that one wasn't entirely his fault.
"We were running and I went to pass Kyle Petty on the outside and he just drilled me into the wall," Edwards said. "It just destroyed our car. I thought he did it on purpose because I was far enough up next to him. Then we were running together later and he was running around me and sticking his nose in and I thought he was going to try to wreck me [again], so I ended up bumping him.
"After the race he came down to tell me that, 'Hey, it was just an accident. I didn't mean to do it.' That's how crazy it is. You can think somebody is so angry at you. Sometimes maybe you need a radio frequency where the drivers can talk."
On Saturday night, that might have helped drivers to vent their emotions. As it was, they were left to letting the cars do the talking, and by night's end, after all arguments had subsided, there was plenty of sheet metal left dragging. As were the hopes of some teams' title bids.
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.