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« Atlanta track provided great racing for a full 500 miles | Main | Chasing points: This is the type of drama the Chase is supposed to create »

Chasing points: Cautions help and hurt Kenseth, Busch

By admin | September 7, 2009

By Richard Allen

Matt Kenseth’s Sunday began as if he were going to be in for 500 miles of misery. Very early into the Pep Boys Auto 500 he started to complain of an ill handling race car. He even bounced the car off the wall at one point. His complaints proved justified as he was lapped in fewer than 35 laps of the race.

Not only did it seem as though his race hopes had gone away but it also looked as if his chances of making the Chase for the Championship were evaporating as well.

Kenseth came into the race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway clinging to his championship life. He was positioned in 12th place of the overall standings, which is the final transfer spot for the title playoff. A poor run, like the run he appeared on his way to having, could strike a serious blow to his chances of remaining as one of only two drivers to have qualified for every Chase.(Jimmie Johnson is the other every time Chase qualifier.)

However, on lap 35 Kenseth was saved. A caution came out for the first of two Sam Hornish spins. Kenseth was awarded the ‘Lucky Dog’ and he regained his lost lap. After that, the driver and his crew made a remarkable comeback. At times, the #17 even raced within the top-5.

With 30 laps remaining, Kenseth looked as if he would earn a solid top-10 finish and would hold ground if not even put distance between himself and those on the outside looking in on the Chase.

Kyle Busch’s race ran in somewhat of a reverse pattern to that of Kenseth’s. He started off running near the front of the pack, racing with eventual contenders Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and others. Busch did not appear as though he would need any help from a caution by the look of things in the first half of the race.

Busch had come into the Atlanta race just outside the top-12 in the points and needed a good finish to stay in contention for a championship.

But the seemingly good run began to go away sometime after the halfway point. Busch’s #18 Toyota began to fade into the pack, particularly on longer green flag runs.

With 30 laps remaining, Busch’s Chase hopes looked to be headed down the tubes. He was lapped by leader Kevin Harvick and was dropping down the leader board like a stone.

The fortunes of both Kenseth and Busch would change on lap 308 when Clint Bowyer spun on the front straight.

Kenseth, who had run best on longer green flag runs, appeared headed for a top-10 while Busch looked like he would not even finish in the top-20. However, the caution sent everyone to pit road.

Busch’s car took off at the drop of the green flag which allowed him to make up several of the spots he had lost on the previous run. Kenseth’s car began to fade, causing him to give up spots he had gained in the earlier run.

Kenseth wound up 12th. Busch finished 13th, but only one spot behind the 12th place man in the overall standings. For Kenseth it could have been much better. For Busch it could have been much worse.

Kenseth remains in 12th overall, only 20 points ahead of Brian Vickers and 37 markers ahead of Busch.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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