The last Southern 500 served to further shake out the Chase for the Championship contenders. With one race to go to decide the inaugural NEXTEL Cup, it's a three-man battle heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ryan Newman's dreams of a first...
The last Southern 500 served to further shake out the Chase for the Championship contenders. With one race to go to decide the inaugural NEXTEL Cup, it's a three-man battle heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ryan Newman's dreams of a first championship went up in a cloud of smoke on lap 309, while Elliott Sadler continues to slump; he wrecked his primary car in practice and his back-up ride trapped him at the back of the field many laps down as the 38 team struggled to dial in the car.
Kurt Busch proved that in the championship battle he is the Teflon man. Busch clawed his way back to the front from back luck all afternoon to finish sixth and stay at the top of the charts with one to go to settle the series title. Jimmie Johnson's win puts him within 18 points of Busch and Jeff Gordon within 21.
Kurt Busch: The No. 97 Ford hit the wall on lap 116 and had to make a lengthy stop to make repairs. Busch emerged the last car on the lead lap. He worked his way back up to third with a lightning quick sub-13 second pit stop late in the race.
"We can smile about the finish but our race car wasn't all that sporty," said Busch. "It was a great job by the crew today to bring me back up and give us those awesome pit stops at the end to get us track position."
Busch finished sixth and retains the top spot in points.
Jimmie Johnson: Traded the lead with Mark Martin most of the early laps of the event. A stuck lug nut on lap 198 sent him from first to ninth on the restart and he had to claw his way back to through the field to earn his eighth win of the year.
"It means a lot to win here at this race track," said Johnson. "It's such a tough track to race at. We have eight wins now in the season with everybody still healing from the loss of everybody on the Hendrick airplane this is good medicine."
That puts him in second place in rankings just 18 points shy of Busch.
Jeff Gordon: Took the lead from Kurt Busch on lap 2 but could not maintain it. The No. 24 Chevy quickly fell back through the field. The Hedrick team worked on adjusting the car, putting Gordon back into contention to win when he grabbed the lead on lap 198.
Martin got around Gordon once but it didn't last long. Gordon regained the lead and at times pulled out to a 1.4 second advantage over the grid. On the final round of pit stops, however, Gordon's team tangled the air hose sending the No. 24 from first to sixth.
"With some great pit stops we came out first," said Gordon. "But we made some mistakes.those mistakes in my opinion cost us the win. I am just disgusted right now."
He worked his way back to a third place result and sits third in points, just 21 markers out of the lead.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Crashed during initial practice for Cup teams and had to use his back-up car. Brushed the wall early on, and then made major adjustments during a pit stop on lap 198 sending him to the 21st position.
Troubles mounted for the No. 8 team when Earnhardt had battery issues at lap 343. A convenient caution at lap 345 allowed the 8 team to make repairs under caution, and he finished 11th.
"We got lucky that caution came out," Earnhardt said. "It gave us a chance to change the battery or we was going to be in bad shape. It was not a good car. We've had better cars here and we've had worse."
He sits fourth in rankings, 72 points out of the lead.
Mark Martin: Swapped lead with Jimmie Johnson a bunch of times during the race but in the end settled for second place.
"It's about the races to me, always has been," said Martin." The races are the glue that make a championship. I don't care about the points one bit."
"This will be a race that I remember the rest of my life," continued Martin. "Because I know there aren't that many more for me."
Martin is fifth in points, 82 markers out.
Tony Stewart: Stewart had an up and down day that finally ended on the downside. On lap 307, Stewart had a loose right front wheel that forced him to pit off sequence with the leaders sending him to 16th one lap down.
Stewart finished 17th and is sixth in the Chase, trailing Busch by 185 points.
Ryan Newman: Newman experienced right front tire problems on lap 22 and had to come to pit road for repairs. Newman was running in the top ten, Newman rejoined the field two laps down in 40th spot. Newman got both laps back and worked his way back to third by lap 178.
"The Alltel job was great today," said Newman. "We had great pit stops, great strategy but that's just how it goes."
Newman had a solid top five finish on board until he blew his engine on lap 309.
He wound up 34th and stays seventh in standings, behind by 244 points.
Matt Kenseth: Right rear tire issues on lap 52 forced Kenseth to make an unscheduled pit stop placing the No. 17 Ford two laps down. He finished 20th.
"It's just how our year has been going," said Kenseth. "We just haven't had a lot of luck."
Kenseth hops over Sadler for eighth spot, 383 out.
Elliott Sadler: Sadler wrecked his primary car in practice and had to give up an eighth place start and begin at the rear of the field. Sadler's No. 38 Ford stunk all day.
"We dug ourselves in a hole this weekend by having to go to a backup car during Saturday's practice," said Sadler. "Even though we felt good about the car after practice, we just never could get the handling right."
He finished 23rd and falls to ninth in points, also 383 points behind.
Jeremy Mayfield: Mayfield had a mediocre run finishing 19th and remains 10th in standings, short by 404.
See also: Johnson wins final Southern 500