Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smoke Rising

At the beginning of the Chase last year, Tony Stewart led at New Hampshire before running out of fuel on the last lap.  This year, the first race of the Chase was held at Chicagoland, but the story was still the same.  Tony Stewart was in the lead while trying to save fuel.  This time, the outcome was different.  Stewart saved enough fuel to hold off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to win his 1st race of 2011.

Stewart celebrates his first win of 2011 (Photo Courtesy Getty Images)
  While the first race of the Chase was good for the likes of Stewart and Harvick, it was not so good for others.  Denny Hamlin's bad luck followed him into the Chase.  He finished 31st, 3 laps down.  Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were not as lucky as Stewart when it came to saving fuel.  They all ran out, and finished one lap down.  Matt Kenseth was headed to a 9th place finish, but he received a push from JJ Yeley on the last lap.  The rule says that you may not be pushed on the last lap if you are out of fuel.  This sent Kenseth from a 9th place finish all the way back to 21st, the first car a lap down.

Photo Courtesy Getty Images
 The other Chasers all finished well, despite some running out of fuel coming out of Turn 4.  In fact, with the exception of Clint Bowyer in 7th and Mark Martin in 9th, the Top 10 finishers were all Chase drivers.  This really shook up the points standings, with only Denny Hamlin remaining in the same position.  Here are the Chase points, after the first race in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup:
  1. (+1) Kevin Harvick         --
  2. (+7) Tony Stewart          -7
  3. (+2) Carl Edwards        -10
  4. (+3) Kurt Busch            -11
  5. (+5) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -13
  6. (+5) Brad Keselowski   -14
  7. (+1) Ryan Newman       -14
  8. (-2) Jimmie Johnson       -16
  9. (-8) Kyle Busch            -19
  10. (-6) Matt Kenseth         -24
  11. (-8) Jeff Gordon            -25
  12. (--) Denny Hamlin         -41
I, unfortunately, could not watch all of the race again this week.  Mother Nature needs to stop messing with racing, because college doesn't really care about postponements of NASCAR races.  But, the end of the race really shook up the points.  It will be fun to see what happens when the Chase continues on at New Hampshire.  Some championship favorites find themselves in a hole early, while some drivers who were not very strong in the regular season now find themselves in good position to win a championship.  This weekend's race at New Hampshire will definitely be fun to watch.  Unfortunately, this race was also Tony Stewart's 40th win in the Cup Series, tying him for 16th on the All-Time wins list with none other than Mark Martin.

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