By Jordan Dodson and Sharon Burton
Drivers came into Kansas Speedway thinking of it as a wildcard race in the Chase.
The Hollywood Casino 400 definitely had some twist and turns, but the points race remained nearly the same as one top contender made the best of a bad situation and another top contender nearly missed catastrophe several times .
Here are where the Chase contenders stand with four races remaining:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Dale Earnhardt Jr. took himself out of the championship hunt last week when he stepped out of his car to heal from his second concussion in two months. Regan Smith finished seventh in the #88, subbing for Earnhardt this week at Kansas. After two weeks to heal and testing this week, Dr. Jerry Petty has released Earnhardt to return to racing this weekend at Martinsville. Will his time away from the track refresh Earnhardt enough to get another win in the next four races?
Greg Biffle: Biffle eliminated any chance of getting back in the hunt for the championship when he pancaked the wall during the race at Kansas. Greg Biffle finished the day with a disappointing 27th place finish. That, along with a 13th at Chicago, 18th at Loudon and 16th at Dover, giving him a Chase average finish of 12th with one top-ten and one top-five at Talladega and Charlotte respectively pretty much indicates, this is not Biffle’s year to win a Championship.
Kevin Harvick: This Chase has been a quiet one for Harvick, as he’s not made any real noise since the Chase started. Kevin finished eleventh on Sunday and sits tenth in points. He is 59 points behind Brad Keselowski, with a Chase average finish of 10.57. The bar to win a Sprint Cup championship is set at an average top-five finish to have any hopes of bringing home the coveted series trophy.
Matt Kenseth: Looking at Matt Kenseth’s Chase performance, is a clear indication of how hard it is to win a Sprint Cup championship. Despite a second win in the Chase at Kansas, Kenseth is all but mathematically eliminated from winning his second championship. He has four other sub par race results of 18th at Chicago, 14th at Loudon, 35th at Dover and 14th at Charlotte, giving him a Chase average finish that is actually worse than Harvick’s at 11.86. Kenseth’s wins do make a difference as his three season wins place him ahead of Harvick with zero wins, despite Harvick’s better Chase performance. It is evident that Kenseth is certainty proving that he is not just riding out his last races at Roush Fenway Racing by winning his second race in three weeks.
Jeff Gordon: With three top-fives at Loudon, Dover and Talladega, it appeared that Gordon would recover from his dismal 35th place finish at Chicago. But after an 18th place finish at Charlotte, Gordon eliminated any realistic chance of being in the championship hunt come Homestead. Gordon finished 10th at Kansas and sits 51 points behind the points leader, with an average Chase finish of 10th.
Tony Stewart: Again, Stewart’s Chase average finish of 10.43 is actually worse than Gordon’s, with Stewart’s three wins, to Gordon’s one win, making the point standing difference. Stewart did have an exciting day at Kansas, as It started with tapping Jeff Burton into the wall and later saving the car from a spin on the back stretch. Tony Stewart would come back to finish fifth at Kansas. He sits seventh in points and 47 points behind Keselowski, with little hope of repeating his 2011 championship performance.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex ran solidly all day and came away with a second place finish Sunday but never challenged for the win. Martin leaves Kansas sixth in points and 43 points behind first place in the Chase, with an average Chase finish well ahead of Stewart at 8.14 and reinforcing Truex’s best Sprint Cup performance of his career.
Kasey Kahne: Kasey Kahne came home with a fourth place finish at Kansas, another solid finish despite some adversity. With more top-five finishes, Kahne still has a real shot at a championship with four races remaining in the Chase. Kahne’s Chase average finish of 6.71 is actually better than both Bowyer and Hamlin, but with two wins to their three wins (Bowyer) and five wins (Hamlin), Kahne trails by 30 points with four guys between him and a championship.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer made a return to his home track Sunday and led laps, running near the front all day and finishing sixth with his home crowd cheering him on. Bowyer’s Chase average finish of 7.57 is slightly better than Hamlin’s – and yes, once again, Hamlin’s five wins make the point difference – with Bowyer sitting 25 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. With Martinsville up next, at the race there earlier this year, Bowyer challenged for the win. but tangled with the leaders on the last restart. Will he get yet another win this weekend as redemption? It’s all about winning and getting top-five finishes in the next four races.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin got caught up in fuel milage but came away with a top-15 finish, crossing the finish line 13th at Kansas. Hamlin also has a 14th at Talladega and a 16th at Chicago, with two top-fives – a win at Loudon and a second at Charlotte – and a top-ten, an 8th-place finish at Dover giving him a Chase average finish of 7.71. Hamlin’s five wins keep him in the hunt for Chase contention as he sits 20 points behind the points leader.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson’s has a top-five Chase average finish of 5.29, well ahead of the others. The 48 team defined what a championship team looks like today. Johnson got into the wall and heavily damaged the rear end during the race. The team immediately went to work, repairing the car and getting Johnson back on the track. Crew chief, Chad Knaus, led the team in repairs with lots of bear bond and led the team to a top-ten finish, placing 9th when the race concluded. What could of been a bad day for Johnson, was salvaged with amazing effort from his team and with sheer determination. Jimmie Johnson leaves Kansas still seven points behind Keselowski and 2nd in points.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski, has the best Chase average finish of 4.86, with only one Chase finish outside the top-ten – his 11th-place finish at Charlotte. His Chase performance also includes two wins – giving him five season wins – and three top-tens. When it’s your year everything goes your way and the racing gods, along with some awesome spotting, were with Brad Keselowski as he nearly missed multiple wrecks Sunday. Incredibly, Keselowski and his team came away with a eighth place finish at Kansas. Brad Keselowski now has only four races and Jimmie Johnson’s 48 team between him and the final Chase race. Will Keselowski prevail with his first championship by the time the Sprint Cup teams end the season at Homestead?