By admin | October 4, 2009
By Richard Allen
It was a case of woulda, shoulda, coulda for NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth on Sunday in the Price Chopper 400 at the Kansas Speedway. These two Chase for the Championship non-qualifiers have shown signs of life during the time in which others have begun the quest for a Sprint Cup title.
Juniorâ€™s promising drive got off to a good start on Friday when he put the #88 Chevrolet on the front row during qualifying. He used that good track position to bolt out to an early lead. He ran at the front for 41 laps in the raceâ€™s beginning stages.
However, as has been the case so many times this year, a blunder on pit road cost this team a lap which they would never recover. During a round of green flag stops the crew failed to fix all the lug nuts on the left rear tire forcing Junior to make a second trip to pit road. The extra stop cost the #88 one lap.
A second bit of bad luck put Junior yet another lap down when he pitted only to have the caution wave before all the leaders had made their stops. Ultimately, a broken belt would ruin the Chevyâ€™s engine and put an early end to Juniorâ€™s day.
Junior also had a good run in the Chaseâ€™s first race at New Hampshire until a late race crash brought an end to what could have been a very good day.
Kenseth experienced much the same sort of day as Junior in Kansas. The #17 Ford started from the 23rd position and began to march forward in the raceâ€™s early laps. After a solid run last week in Dover, it looked very much like the driver might score a second consecutive top-5 result.
Instead, the same caution which caused Earnhardt to lose a second lap put Kenseth a lap down as well. His team used the wave-around option to gain the lap back but much track position was lost.
Like Junior, an engine problem eventually forced Kenseth to the garage and ended his day early.
Fans of both of these drivers seemingly can take heart in the recent runs of their favorites. Both have shown the first signs of life in quite some time. Each is in the position of trying to build momentum for next season since any hope of a Sprint Cup title has passed for 2009.
Both Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth had an opportunity to ruin Sundayâ€™s Chase party in Kansas. However, misfortune found each driver and put an end to the hope of a non-Chaser spoiling the championship title contendersâ€™ day.
In the end, Chase drivers took nine of the top-10 finishing positions. Had bad things not happened to these drivers, that would not have been the case.
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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