Two to go in championship chase

Eight races have been put to bed in the inaugural NEXTEL Chase for the Championship and still there is no clear victor in sight. Once again bad luck bit many of the top racers in the battle. Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth and Jeremy Mayfield all...

Eight races have been put to bed in the inaugural NEXTEL Chase for the Championship and still there is no clear victor in sight. Once again bad luck bit many of the top racers in the battle. Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth and Jeremy Mayfield all fell victim to cut tires and are the biggest losers of the afternoon.

On the flip side a lap 129 multi-car crash that involved Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch didn't hurt their chances at all as they each brought home a good result.

1. Kurt Busch: Busch was mired in a wreck on lap 129 slightly denting his right front quarter panel. Busch climbed back through the pack grabbing the lead at lap 203 when leader Earnhardt pitted and he stayed out.

"We just didn't seem to live up to our potential today," said Busch.

He worked his way back to a 10th place result and continues to lead standings for the sixth consecutive week.

2. Jeff Gordon: Gordon grabbed the lead from Elliott Sadler on lap 124 and kept it through lap 144. Gordon pitted and Earnhardt stayed out --- giving the lead back to the No. 8 team.

Gordon regained the lead on lap 232 after pit strategies played out amongst the leaders but did not have enough to hold back Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Ryan Newman in the races final circuits.

"I never thought today that we were going to win this race," said Gordon. "Dale (Earnhardt) had the dominate car all day."

He finished third and climbs one spot to second in points, trailing Busch by 41 points.

3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt rebounded from a disastrous week in Atlanta that had dropped him to fifth in points. Earnhardt took the lead at PIR on lap 60 and led until lap 104. Earnhardt took four-tires under caution, but many of his competitors took just two and beat him off pit road.

Earnhardt stayed out during a round of stops at lap 144 and regained the top spot. Pit strategy began to come into play, however, and by lap 232 Earnhardt found Gordon in the lead and the No. 8 Chevy in 11th.

"It was a tough race," said Earnhardt. "We fought and carried on, but maybe that's the way we ought to do it because we had a lot of success."

Earnhardt won the event and gains two spots moving to third in points, 47 short of the lead.

4. Jimmie Johnson: After three consecutive wins Johnson's team experienced problems early at PIR. Johnson was running in the top ten at lap 135 when he had to pit under green due to tire problems. That sent him to 35th spot, one lap down.

"It's a great comeback," said Johnson. "We went down a lap and got our lap back. And we were able to work our way back there to sixth."

Johnson got back on the lead lap at 203 and finished sixth. He falls two spots to fourth, 48 markers out.

5. Mark Martin: Martin ran into the rear of the No. 12 car during a multi- car crash at lap 129 and finished 15th. He falls one spot to fifth in standings, 102 points out of the lead.

"This whole Chase, we've finished worse than we've run in every race but one," said Martin. "And we need to finish better than we run. We haven't had any disasters and that's a good thing."

6. Tony Stewart: Solid top ten run trouble free. He finished eighth and remains sixth in points. He trails Busch by 142.

"That's two weeks in a row where we've worked and worked and worked to get the car better as the day went, and that's something we haven't been able to do for awhile," said Stewart.

7. Ryan Newman: Newman clinched the 2004 overall Budweiser pole award with his series-high ninth top start of the season. Troubles started for Newman, however, on lap 117 when he cut down a right side tire and had to pit under green, which repelled him back to 30th spot one lap down.

Bad luck continued to mount when the No. 6 Ford of Mark Martin rammed into his rear during a multi-car incident on lap 129. Newman got back on the lead lap and picked his way back through the field for an outstanding second place finish.

"Our Dodge was running really well, but Junior got out in front of us and I think that's what made the difference," Newman said. "He pulled away from us, but coulda, woulda, shoulda. We'll go home with second. The team did a great job. We had a great racecar. We just came up short. We've got it going on, just a little late. The team did a great job fighting back. We look forward to the next two races, especially Darlington. We had a great racecar. We just needed track position and we had to get it first and Junior got it first. We're happy to come home with second, not as happy as we would to come home with first, but happier than third.

"I think we had a tire going down (early) and we decided to be safe and come in and pit. It cost us a lap, but the guys did a good job fighting back. It takes a great racecar to be able to do that. I didn't care about the weather. As long as we get to the end, that's all that matters."

He remains seventh, 150 markers behind the top spot.

8. Elliott Sadler: Team 38 gave Sadler two-tires and got him off pit road first just prior to the race being red-flagged for rain. Sadler led the field on the restart until lap 124 when Jeff Gordon passed him for the position.

Sadler's day fell apart when he hit the wall at lap 154. Sadler spent an extended time in the garage as his team made repairs; he rejoined the race at lap 217.

"Just whether it is in the pits or on the track we've been having bad luck the last few weeks," said Sadler. "We'll keep doing the best we can. It's just tough. It's tough to swallow, tough to live with, my guys are working their butts off. It's just a shame. I'm man enough to say I messed up.

"It's just one of those deals."

Sadler wound up 38th but retains his eighth place in points though he falls 322 points behind.

9. Matt Kenseth: Difficulties continue for the Roush Ford team. Kenseth cut down a tire on lap 104 while running in the top ten.

The bad news didn't end there for the reigning Cup series champion. With 37 to go, the No. 17 Ford had problems under the hood. They finally blew up with 30 to go.

"We just broke," said Kenseth. "We just broke something in the motor. I don't know why or how we just broke something."

He finished 35th, and trails by 336 markers.

10. Jeremy Mayfield: Blew a left rear tire with seven to go after having a great run all day. He ended up 21rst and stays tenth in standings, some 355 points away from Busch.

"We ran good all day, but things just didn't go our way," said Mayfield. "We were out of sync on pit stops all day and couldn't make it up. Then we got that flat, but overall I'm proud of the guys. Everybody worked hard today and we made great improvements."

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