Top Chase Contenders Suffer Pain At The Pump At Chicagoland

Charlotte, NC (September 19, 2011) – Most of us wince when we pull up to the gas pump these days, the cost of fuel is hitting us squarely in the pocketbook. But that’s nothing compared to the sucker punch Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch took Monday.

All four drivers – along with several others – ran out of fuel on the final lap of Monday’s Geico 400. And while it’s just the first race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup title ‘Chase,’ it’s very possible that their championship dreams are now riding on fumes too.

Kenseth, the pole sitter for the race and leader for a good portion of the event, may have taken the hardest blow when NASCAR scored him 21st in the final running order after receiving a push around the track on the final lap. Meanwhile, Johnson was the luckiest of those to run out of gas, still salvaging a ninth-place finish.

Gordon, our pick to win the title this year, was thought to be one of the few drivers able to make it to the finish on fuel in Monday’s rain-delayed race. That proved to be false as he coasted to pit road a lap prior to the race’s conclusion and finished 22nd. Busch was in the same boat, never getting off pit road to take the checkered flag and was scored 23rd.

The saying is you can’t win the championship in one race, but you can easily lose one. While no one is counting anyone out after Monday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, Kenseth, Johnson, Gordon and Busch might have a hard time looking at the pump the next time they pull in to ‘fill ‘er up.’

Ying And Yang

For every action, there’s a reaction. While several played the fuel mileage game and lost, there were those who rolled the dice on their gas supply and won.

Tony Stewart captured the 40th Sprint Cup win of his career masterfully managing his fuel supply over the final 50 laps. Ditto for Kevin Harvick, who took a bad day and turned it into a solid second-place finish.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., an afterthought for most of the day, found speed and fuel in his car right at the critical moment racing his way through the field for a third-place effort. Carl Edwards also had the golden horseshoe drop his way as his fuel held out to finish fourth.

Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski, who seems to always be a winner when the race comes down to a splash of fuel, finished fifth while Chasers Kurt Busch (sixth) and Ryan Newman (ninth) also willed their mounts to the finish.

The only driver in the Chase to not get caught up in the Chicagoland dash for gas Denny Hamlin, who had so many problems throughout the race that it didn’t matter if he had fuel or not.

When it all shakes out, Harvick is the new point’s leader after race one, seven points up on Stewart. Edwards is 10 back of the lead with Kurt Busch 11 in arrears. Earnhardt, Jr. made the biggest leap jumping to fifth in the standings (-13) with Newman sixth (-14), Keselowski (-14) and Johnson (-18).

Kyle Busch’s bout with the fuel can tumbled him from first to ninth in the standings, 19 points out of first while Kenseth (-24), Gordon (-25) and Hamlin (-41) may already have sealed their championship fates.

Last Call –

We said weeks ago that all the hand wringing over Stewart not winning a race yet this year was much ado about nothing.

With more than a dozen races left in the season, the media was peppering the volatile Stewart with questions for weeks about his inability to reach Victory Lane this season. Last week, the situation boiled over when Stewart popped a gasket and ripped the media in a very public, live television interview.

Not surprising to us, Stewart – this generation’s version of A.J. Foyt – rolled to a win this week at Chicagoland. When you have a driver, car and team this good, they’re bound to find Victory Lane sooner or later. And while we don’t condone Stewart’s behavior at times, there’s no doubt that he thrives on controversy.

That said, is it any wonder that he won this week?

We don’t think so.

Share Button