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Let The Chase begin

by Pete McCole
Sunday, September 08, 2013

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(Back Row, L-R) Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's American Heritage Chocolate Toyota, Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg's / Cheez-It Ford, Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Home Depot / Husky Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, (Front Row, L-R) Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Scotchgard Ford, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #78 Furniture Row / Beautyrest Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota
Getty Images for NASCAR
The field for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup is finally set, and as the checkered flag waved on Saturday night’s race at Richmond Int’l Raceway, the 10 drivers who made up this year’s class of championship contenders celebrated while others were left to ponder a season that could have been.

Matt Kenseth took the top seed in the 10-race championship playoff by virtue of his five victories, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch with four wins each. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards round out the top five with two wins apiece.

Joey Logano will make his first career Chase appearance in the sixth seed, followed by Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kurt Busch. Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex, Jr. took the final two wild-card spots.

Among those on the outside looking in were defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman, who went from making the Chase to being bumped from the field all in the span of three laps.

And no sooner did the race end that the controversy began – was a late-race caution brought out by an intentional spin to benefit a teammate?

At issue was an incident with driver Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go and Ryan Newman holding the top spot.

Newman, who needed a win to qualify for the Chase on a wild-card spot, grabbed the lead from Carl Edwards with 10 laps to go and looked to be on his way to a victory, which would have guaranteed him a berth in the Chase and bump Martin Truex, Jr.  – Bowyer’s teammate - out of the wild-card position.

But just three laps after Newman took the lead, Bowyer – running in the 16th position and was already locked into the Chase – spun coming out of turn four to bring out the fifth yellow flag of the night.

The caution brought the field to pit road with Newman leading, but a slow pit stop put Newman out fifth with three laps to go. He would eventually finish third behind race winner Edwards and Kurt Busch.

The third-place finish left Newman tied in points with Truex, who won the tie-breaker by virtue of more second-place finishes – giving him the 12th and final spot in the Chase.

Whether or not Bowyer intentionally spun his Toyota to benefit his teammate might never be known.  Bowyer himself denied the accusation after the race.

“We had a flat tire or something,” said Bowyer. “We went from leading the race and got back there. I got down in there and it kept getting tighter and tighter and tighter and then the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got in there and by the time I got back in the gas, he got into me and I had so much wheel in it that it snapped around.

“It’s unfortunate. I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things. Go ahead, if you want to. Get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”

Newman was skeptical of Bowyers explanation after the race, but in the end blamed his teams performance on pit road for costing them a shot at the championship.

“They are teammates,” said Newman. “I don't know if (Bowyer) looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading.  It doesn't matter.  If that was the case, I'll find out one way or the other. 

“Winning would have changed everything and that last caution definitely hurt us, but we got killed on pit road, there's no doubt about that. We needed a championship contending pit crew, and we didn't have that tonight. That being said, we're out.”

The late-race drama also cost Jeff Gordon, who went from being in the Chase field to being bump by Joey Logano.

Gordon was running 8th at the time of the caution and would have ended up with the 10th spot in the Chase by just two points over Logano, who was two laps down in 25th.

But under the yellow flag Logano was able to take the wave-around and gain back one lap, and on the ensuing restart was able to make up three more spots to come home 22nd, finishing one point ahead of Gordon for 10th in points.

“It feels really good after having such a rough night.  The car was really struggling all night,” said Logano. “I kept asking Todd where we were, if we were good or bad and he never really answered me, so I was thinking, ‘I don’t think that’s good.’  Thank God for that last caution, I guess.  I think we were out before that

“Feels like a big weight has been lifted off your shoulders to get in this thing. Now we can reset our goals towards the championship.  Got a good shot at it.  Ready to have some fun now.”

While Logano celebrated his first Chase appearance, his teammate and defending Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski was left wonder what could have been.

Keselowski was a long shot to make the Chase after several dismal performances in the last weeks leading up to Saturday night’s race put him 15th in points, and with no victories under his belt this season would need a win to propel him into the Chase.

Keselowski looked strong in the early stages of the race and went onto lead the most laps to gain some critical bonus points, but ended up getting the short end of the stick when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall on lap 345 right in the middle of green-flag pit stops, pinning Keselowski deep in the field. He ended up 17th in the final running order and 16th in the points standings.

“I don’t really have any emotions right now,” said Keselowski. “We weren’t good enough to make it and we didn’t. That is the reality.”

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