The 'Chase' is a nail bitter

The NEXTEL 'Chase for the Championship' continues to be a nail bitter as we wrap up the second race of the playoff NASCAR's playoff season. For Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman, valuable positions and points were gained, for Elliott Sadler and Matt ...

The NEXTEL 'Chase for the Championship' continues to be a nail bitter as we wrap up the second race of the playoff NASCAR's playoff season. For Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman, valuable positions and points were gained, for Elliott Sadler and Matt Kenseth tire problems saw their championship dreams start to swirl down the drain.

With a mere eight races remaining, first to tenth in standings are separated by just 157 points. Eight racers swapped spots at Dover International Raceway, making it anyone's guess who will come home with the 2004 series title.

1. Jeff Gordon: Gordon's third place finish sends him into the lead in the NEXTEL Chase for the Championship. He sits just one point ahead of the field.

"We made big gains for sure," said Gordon of taking the lead in points. "I'm real proud of these guys for the effort. We had great pit stops and we just never gave up. Early on, I'll tell you what I wouldn't have given us a short at a top 20. We kept fighting and fighting with the car and we finally got it pretty decent there at the end."

2. Kurt Busch: Busch's fifth place result lands him second in points, one points shy of leader Jeff Gordon.

"It was a good point's day," said Busch. "But we didn't have enough on the program to compete for the win. It just seemed like our car wouldn't run on the long, long run."

3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt placed a solid ninth, but fellow 'chase' competitors finishing in the top three knocks him from first to third in series standings, 18 markers behind the leader.

"We had a really good racecar today, and it just went to junk on the last two sets of tires." Earnhardt said. "We made no other changes, and it just became a totally different car. Usually if the car starts off loose (on new tires), it will gradually tighten up as the air pressures change. But, at the end, there were no moments where it was even close to handling the way it had been during the first half of the race. It was runnin' good, and then it was so rough, with the way we sit in these seats, it almost beat the armpits offa me.

"Ninth? We finished ninth? Well, I'll take that. It keeps us close in the chase and I think it's going to take a steady run of top-10s and top-fives to win this thing. It was a frustrating way to finish the day, but we'll be OK."

4. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson's day was rolling around pretty good, until a round of pit stops on lap 170. Johnson was penalized for speeding down pit road, sending him from fourth to 19th.

Johnson steadily picked his way through the field, but only climbed to a tenth place finish, allowing him to move up one spot to fourth, 57 points behind Gordon.

"It hurt us and we went down a lap at that point," commented Johnson. "We were probably a third or fourth place car. It's disappointing."

5. Mark Martin: Martin scored second, and moves from seventh to fifth in standings, 57 points shy of the lead.

"We had to adjust early," Martin commented on his run. "But the last three stops we didn't touch it. We got it right about halfway through and that was all we were gonna get out of it."

6. Elliott Sadler: Sadler cut a right rear tire on lap 375 while running solidly in the top ten. His troubles mounted when he was forced to serve a pass through penalty for speeding on pit road.

It was a sucker punch for the No. 38 team, who finished 20th three laps down, but Sadler will remain sixth in points, but falls 96 points from number one.

"I don't know what was wrong with that last set of tires," Sadler said. "I felt like we had 60 pounds of air in them or something. I was just bouncing all over the place. I don't know what happened. It felt like I was sliding all around everywhere just bouncing, I mean even down the straightaway I was bouncing."

7. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth's second championship title slipped a little further away Sunday at Dover International Raceway. Kenseth lost control of the No. 17 Ford coming onto pit road, while leading, on lap 122. Kenseth crashed into the tire barriers at the entrance of pit road, smashing the front end of the DeWalt Ford.

"It was just a dumb mistake," said Kenseth. "It was just a dumb mistake. I slowed down in the same spot on the track where I usually slow down, but I think between the first time everybody pitted under green, and a little bit of sand on pit road, and my right-front tire probably getting worn out, I just didn't have any traction."

Kenseth's team managed to get the No. 17 back on the track 52 laps down, to finish 32nd.

He entered Dover fourth in standings, but will leave seventh, 99 points short of Gordon.

8. Ryan Newman: Newman's win helps his climb upwards in the chase battle. He moves up one spot from ninth to eighth, 107 markers out.

"I was a very big critic of the points system all season long," Newman said, "From a marketing standpoint it is probably a great strategy.but I don't think it was fair to the competitors and I will leave it at that."

9. Tony Stewart: Stewart managed to salvage a sixth place finish after once again getting swept up in an on-track shoving match with Robby Gordon. Early in the race, Stewart was displeased with how Gordon passed him, and gave the No. 31 the bumper. The move caused a slight bit of damage on the nose of Stewart's car, and quite a bit of damage in the temper of Stewart.

"All I know, is I feel like kicking the 31's (Robby Gordon) butt right now," said an irate Stewart as he emerged from this car. "It could have been worse because the car was much worse all day. But the guys kept working on it and battling back and we finished sixth."

Stewart falls from eighth to ninth in standings, 135 points out of the top spot.

10. Jeremy Mayfield: Mayfield had a strong seventh place result, but maintains his tenth place spot in standings, 157 points out.

"We had a good car but had to battle all day," said Mayfield. "I lost radio contact with the crew early in the race. I couldn't tell them what the car was doing. We didn't get it fixed until the last caution."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin