Monday, October 06, 2014

Championship Favorites In Peril After Kansas Chaos

If your NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship bracket looks a bit battered this morning, join the club. 

In the aftermath of a chaotic Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas that saw championship contenders fall like leaves in autumn, the 2014 championship picture is in utter disarray. While Joey Logano assumed favored status with an impressive victory, a number of his fellow Chase contenders now find themselves on the brink of elimination. 

Johnson is in trouble
Hendrick Motorsports suffered the most, headlined by six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. 

Johnson’s Chad Knaus-led team struggling to find speed throughout the Hollywood Casino 400 weekend, and started 32nd Sunday after an uncharacteristic spin in first-round qualifying. Johnson advanced only marginally through the field before crashing early, en route to a demoralizing, 40th-place finish.  

“I just got tagged in the left rear,” said Johnson afterward. “(I was) cruising along on top and everything was fine, then found myself sideways down the back straightaway.  

“Our problem started on Friday in qualifying,” he admitted. “If you're going to be in the back in qualifying, you put yourself in harm's way. Today is proof of that.”  

The good news for Johnson is that the series travels to Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night for the Bank of America 500. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is a seven-time CMS winner, and went to Victory Lane in his most recent start there in May. That win signaled the start of a four-week hot streak for Johnson, with wins at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan.  

Much has changed since then, however. Johnson has not led a lap in the last eight races, and is currently locked in the throes of a 15-race winless streak.  

"If I can get taken out today, somebody else can later,” said Johnson Sunday. “We'll do our best to get on track and (we will) certainly need Ws -- I would assume -- going forward." 
"We gave it all back"
Former series champion Brad Keselowski also experienced a right-front tire issue at Kansas, pounding the wall and finishing 36th. Sunday’s misfortune stalled – at least temporarily – a Chase drive that had featured a win at Chicagoland, a seventh in New Hampshire and a second at Dover.  

"We took a big points lead in here and gave it all back,” moaned Keselowski yesterday. “The good side of it is that we can still win our way out of this, and we have two really good tracks ahead." 

Indeed, Keselowski is a former winner at both Charlotte and Talladega, and has shown impressive speed throughout the 2014 campaign. He and crew chief Paul Wolfe hope to right the ship this weekend and put themselves back into the Comfort Zone, heading to Talladega.
Junior Nation, stock up on Maalox
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also struggled Sunday, losing a right-front tire while leading on Lap 123, hitting the wall and limping to the garages for lengthy repairs that left him 39th at the drop of the checkered flag. He now ranks 11th in the 12-man Chase standings (ahead of only Johnson), and bemoaned the fate of his battered Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet after Sunday’s race. 

"Man, that was a great race car,” he said. “I was going into Turn Three and the surface of the tire unwound all the way across the surface. The whole surface of the tire unwound like a string... and popped off the corner. This is going to hurt us in the points, but we've got a lot of racing left and a lot of racing to win.” 

NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver has been mediocre at Charlotte over the years, with no wins, 11 Top-10 finishes in 29 career starts and an average CMS finish of 19.4. If he cannot right the ship in Charlotte – and past history says he might not – Earnhardt will be forced to save his season with a strong run at Talladega Superspeedway, where he is a five-time winner. 

Junior Nation, stock up on the Maalox. 

Kahne looking to CMS
Also among the imperiled is Kasey Kahne, who saw a strong Kansas run go awry when he hit the Turn Two wall while attempting to execute a three-wide pass on a Lap 235 restart. He soldiered on to finish 22nd in the final rundown, and is ninth in the championship standings heading to Charlotte.   

Kahne is a four-time CMS winner, with much of that success coming in night races. He’ll need to be at his best under the lights Saturday night, if he hopes to avoid a must-win situation at Talladega, where he has just three Top-5 finishes… ever.  

"I want to win Charlotte,” said Kahne of his flickering title hopes. “It's been a while since we won there, and I know that we can." 



  1. I may not like the outcome but this is by far the best chase format ever IMO, nobody can go out and ride around, for certain not at Homestead,,, What say you Mr Moody ?

  2. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Thought Talladega would shuffle things up a bit.Makes Charlotte even that more important.Me thinks the sales of Tums,Maalox and Mylanta will see a sales spike in the Charlotte area this week.

  3. Dave, not to complicate your world, but have you considered thumbs up/down buttons for your blog for those of us who on occasion and in the interest of brevity would like only to agree/disagree with someone's post without replying?