Chasers Knuckled

The odd finish in Sunday?s Life Lock 400 at Kansas Speedway closed the book on an even stranger race that got off to an unusual start when Johnson, the pole sitter, had to start in the back after wrecking his car in ?Happy Hour? practice Saturday.

After 18 laps, the race was red-flagged for 45 minutes as rain hit the track. Shortly after the green flag again fell, Kyle Busch was the first of several Chase drivers to bite it on this day when contact from behind by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sent Busch?s Chevy into the backstretch wall.

Like Busch, Jeff Burton?s title hopes coasted to a stop in Turn 2 on Lap 71. After another lengthy rain delay, this one totaling 2 hours, 13 minutes, Chasers Martin Truex, Jr, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart all saw their chances end when they were swept up into a crash after Kenny Schrader spun coming off of Turn 2.

Stewart?s crew then made the bonehead move of the season leaving him on the track with significant left-front body damage. The predictable result was a flat left-front tire and eventual wreck, which occurred on Lap 177 which also collected fellow Chasers Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Denny Hamlin was the next Chaser to taste the concrete, caught up in a wreck on Lap 185.

In case you?re counting, that?s eight drivers the Chase field either in the fence or the garage leaving the remaining four ? Bowyer, Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick – to play the gas and tire management game based on the now shortened 225-lap contest.

As darkness set in, the race was again shortened to 210 laps leaving Biffle to coast his way into the glomming and Kansas infield grass with his 12th career Cup win. Meanwhile, Johnson recovered from his Saturday miscue to jump back into the Chase point standings while Gordon and Bowyer used their finishes to position themselves second and third in the title battle.

Stewart fell to fourth, 114 points back, while Harvick, one of the slowest cars on the track in practice Saturday, somehow cabbed around to actually lead and eventually finish fifth Sunday, leaving him in the same position in the Chase – 126 points out of first.

Everybody else got knuckled.

Kyle Busch is 136 back in sixth after his run in with ?the 8 car,? while Edwards, still reeling from a 25-point post race rules infraction penalty after winning the previous event at Dover, is now 142 back thanks to Stewart?s decision not to pit for repairs and subsequent wreck.

Truex, Jr. (-158), Kurt Busch (-177), Burton (-186), Kenseth (-219) and Hamlin (-248) are all toast in the Chase race.

Of this group, you really have to feel bad for Kenseth, who led large portions of the past two races only to have wrecks not of his own making end his chances of winning that day and a possible title run.

In the end, the Life Lock 400 (does anybody know what Life Lock is?) will be remembered as a miserable weather day that resulted the victor winning under some unusual circumstances and a host of Chase wadded up in the garage area.

Not exactly what the doctor ordered ? pretty much half the field all but eliminted from the title battle – especially with seven races remaining in the Championship chase.

Code Blue

Speaking of doctors, you have to feel badly for Dr. Jerry Punch and the rest of the ESPN/ABC announcing crew who ? along with the viewers ? are consistently drubbed by bad telecast direction.

The latest fumble by the crack ESPN/ABC production crew came Sunday when they decided to go to commercial just as Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon joined Kenseth in a three-car battle for the lead around Lap 45.

You would think after more than an hour of pre-race mumbo jumbo, a 45-minute rain delay, and 25 laps of Kenseth driving away by himself from the field after the restart, the folks in ?the truck? would actually want to show the fans some racing.

Guess not.

Fortunately, the three-car battle was still there after more than four minutes of commercials, but the point illustrates how bad the scripted event formula and race direction is on television ? not just at ESPN/ABC – but all the networks.

This column has long called for NASCAR to adopt the ?Side-By-Side? concept used by ESPN/ABC in the Indy Car races ? where a commercial and the race are both shown simultaneously. Sunday?s Kansas Cup race ? and its inability to show the viewer key and exciting points of the event – again proved that concept is long overdue in NASCAR telecasts.

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