With just three races left to determine the inaugural NEXTEL Cup series champion the entire complexion of the standings has changed. Engine woes struck the teams of Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, and an accident took Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
With just three races left to determine the inaugural NEXTEL Cup series champion the entire complexion of the standings has changed. Engine woes struck the teams of Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, and an accident took Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of contention for the win.
In the end, bad mojo struck six of Kurt Busch's competitors keeping him at the top of the charts. Jimmie Johnson gains the most advantage, while the biggest losers are Earnhardt and Elliott Sadler.
1. Kurt Busch: Trouble befell the No. 97 Ford at lap 52 when the engine let go in Busch's ride. This is the first black mark for the 97 team since the Chase began. In the six Chase races in the books, he has earned one win and four top-fives.
"It was catastrophic, it wasn't anything we could fix from the drivers seat," said Busch. "Just bum luck."
Busch finished 42nd, but remains at the head of the class.
2. Jimmie Johnson: Won his third consecutive race and series high seventh of the season. The win jumps him from fourth to second, 59 markers out of first. It's a real accomplishment for the No. 48 team, who just three races ago looked all but out of contention for their first series title.
"There was a bigger plan for this Hendrick team than we knew today," said an emotional Johnson.
3. Jeff Gordon: One week after the tragic plane crash in Martinsville that wiped out 10 members of the Hendrick organization Jeff Gordon said he had never been more determined. Sadly, on lap 151 the No. 24 Chevy, already a lap down, broke a shock.
Trouble continued to mount for the 24 team during a round of stops at lap 176. They suffered a broken rear end gear and had to head to the garage for repairs.
"We were just fighting a bad loose condition that came out of nowhere," said Gordon. "Heard a bunch of pieces start breaking, and the car wouldn't go anywhere. It's a rough day for us, and nothing was really going our way."
Gordon got back on track 26 laps down; he wound up finishing 34th and dropping one spot to third, 72 points short.
4. Mark Martin: Solid second place finish at AMS, combined with most laps led moves him from fifth to fourth in rankings. He sits 81 points out of the lead.
"Pat Tryson (crew chief) was a sitting duck," said Martin. "He lost either way when they threw the caution. If I find out that that caution was for show, I'll choke."
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: It's the second consecutive DNF for the No. 8 DEI Chevy team, and this one has really cost them. Earnhardt slid up in front of the No. 99 of Carl Edwards at lap 310 and wasn't quite clear. Edwards clipped him, sending the No. 8 spinning and then crashing into the wall.
"We were trying to race for the win and I came up on Carl and turned myself into the inside fence," said Earnhardt. "Kinda sucks to loose all those points, it's not Carl's fault, it's mine. I really ain't worried about it, we wanted to win and that's what we were trying to do. We could have gained a lot of points and that would have been nice but it is hard to race like that."
He finished 33rd, and tumbles from third to fifth in standings 98 points shy of the leader.
6. Tony Stewart: Quiet ninth place run for the No. 20 team. They remain sixth, 145 points out.
"We still need to be better than we are," said Stewart. "One thing you never have to doubt is the commitment of this Home Depot team and Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief).it's just easy to get down when you have been off just a tick with the car like we have been but the guys kept me pumped up on the radio today and kept telling me what was going on with Kurt (Busch) and everyone."
7. Ryan Newman: Newman sat on his third consecutive pole at AMS but at lap 64 Newman had to dip onto pit road unexpectedly with a bad vibration. The No. 12 Dodge changed all four tires in case of a loose lug nut or a loose wheel which solved the problem. Newman restarted 34th one lap down, but managed to finish 17th. He moves up two spots to seventh, short 186 points.
"We had a left front tire that was four ounces out of balance which is pretty big," said Newman. "It was shaking pretty badly, and we didn't know what it was. We didn't want it to shake and blow a tire or anything goofy, so we just decided to pit and play it safe.
"It was probably the right thing to do."
8. Elliott Sadler: Sadler lost all hopes at a championship at lap 117 when he made contact with Joe Nemechek as he attempted to come in to his pit stall. Sadler then angled his car in poorly and reported that he had no transmission. The team pushed the car between the pit stall lines to work on it and eventually into the garage.
The contact with the No. 01 broke the center link which destroyed the steering and forced them to replace the transmission. Sadler was running in the top ten at the time of the incident.
Sadler rejoined the field 61 laps down; he finished 36th and tumbles from seventh to eighth, 237 markers out of the top spot.
"Obviously it was an unfortunate day for the M&M's team," Sadler said. "We were just trying to get to pit road under green and we made contact with the 01 for the second week in a row. It was a pit miscue, but he hit me hard enough to break the transmission. We had to come behind the wall to fix the steering and transmission and lost about 50 laps. I'm upset for everyone that works so hard week in and week out because we started off so strong and drove to the front.
"It hurts when you have something that avoidable take us out of contention for the win."
9. Matt Kenseth: Reigning Cup series champion Kenseth experienced problems on lap 176 when the engine let go in the No. 17 Ford while running in 8th place.
"I thought we were out of it before today," said Kenseth of his title hopes. "So we're really out of it after today. I didn't think coming in today we really had a chance, but we're trying to get as high as we can. We still really want to get in the top five and finish as high as we can and end the season on a strong note."
He finished 41st, and drops from eighth to ninth in standings. He sits 257 behind.
10. Jeremy Mayfield: Mayfield cut a right rear tire in the early laps of the race having to come onto pit road and make an unscheduled pit stop. That put the No. 19 Dodge one lap down.
He wound up 26th and remains 10th some 316 shy of leader Busch.
"It was a long day for us," said Mayfield. "Probably the worst day we've had hear in a long time."