Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Roush Rewind: Price Chopper 400

The Sprint Cup Series made a stop at Kansas Speedway for the third Chase race of the 2010 season. The Price Chopper 400 was a chance for some of the Chase drivers to rebound after getting off to a bad start in the first two races. For others, it was an opportunity to build on their momentum in their run for the championship. Unlike the previous weekend at Dover, the race at Kansas was pretty much dominated by the Chase drivers.

For Roush Fenway Racing, coming to Kansas was a race that would either make or break their championship hopes. Luckily for them, it kept those hopes alive. Until Sunday, Roush Fenway only had two Cup wins at Kansas, one with Mark Martin in 2005 and with Greg Biffle in 2007. Throughout the whole weekend, including practice and qualifying, the Roush Fenway drivers looked strong. With Greg Biffle leading the way for Roush Fenway and taking the checkered flag, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth also finished inside the top-10, finished 5th and 7th respectively. David Ragan had a fast car, but handling issues had him crossing the finish line in the 16th position. All in all, a win and all four drivers inside the top 16 wasn’t a bad way to end the third race of the Chase.

David Ragan—Start: 10th. Finish: 16th

For David Ragan, things were definitely looking up at Kansas Speedway over the weekend. It was Ragan’s second weekend to work with new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. It seems as though Blickensderfer is the change that team needed to start turning things around. They unloaded one of the best cars they have had all season. Ragan was inside the top 10 in practice throughout the three practice sessions, and even in qualifying he had a fast car, earning the 10th starting position. The No. 6 UPS Ford looked fast, but tight-handling conditions left Ragan fighting for track position throughout the race.

It wasn’t long after the green flag waved on Sunday before Ragan reported that his car was tight. The handling issues caused Ragan to drift back through the back. He was running 22nd when the first caution of the day came out on lap 42 for the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya getting into the wall. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, front air pressure adjustments and rubber was taken out of the left-rear spring. The adjustments resulted in a long stop, putting Ragan 32nd for the restart. While the
changes did help, the tight-handling condition was still there.

The caution came out again on lap 52 for the No. 00 of David Reutimann spinning after contact with the No. 18 of Kyle Busch. Then a long green-flag run followed, under which Ragan spent time trying different lines on the track to see where his car was fastest. He had worked his way up to 18th when he made his stop under green for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment. The long run continued, and so did the handling issues on the No. 6 Ford. Ragan pitted under green again for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and track bar adjustments. Shortly after his pit stop, the third caution of the day came out when Reutimann and Busch got together again, resulting in Reutimann spinning out. The caution would be a big break for Ragan, who had just gone a lap down to the leader three laps prior. Ragan was the Lucky Dog under that caution and got back on the lead lap. Ragan pitted under that caution for four tires, fuel, a track bar adjustment, and to have a shim removed from broth front shocks.

As the adjustments began to improve the handling, Ragan slowly moved his way forward. His next two pit stops were for four tires and fuel only. His final stop of the day was for four tires, fuel, and a slight track bar adjustment.
While the tight-handling condition had not completely gone away, the car’s handling had improved drastically from the beginning of the race. Ragan crossed the finish line in the 16th position and is 24th in the standings.

Matt Kenseth—Start: 8th. Finish: 7th.

Following two rough starts in the Chase, Matt Kenseth came to Kansas Speedway ready to turn his run in the Chase around. Kenseth and his crew had a good car coming into the weekend. He was 11th in the first practice session, 3rd in the second practice session, and 12th in final practice. In qualifying on Friday, Kenseth laid down a 31.052-second lap, which was good enough to earn him the 8th starting position for Sunday’s Price Chopper 400 at Kansas.

Once the green flag dropped, Kenseth wasted no time in picking up positions. He was inside the top 5 within the first 15 laps. As the opening run continued, Kenseth reported to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford was beginning to get loose off the turns and that the nose of the car wanted to slide in the middle of the turns. Kenseth needed more front grip to be able to fight for track position and keep up with the leaders.

The first caution came out on lap 43, and Kenseth headed down pit road for four tires, fuel, and air pressure adjustments. Once the race restarted, he began to make a charge to the front, taking over the lead on lap 56. While up front and in clean air, Kenseth ran different lines to see which one helped his car run the fastest. On lap 81, Kenseth fell to 2nd, reporting his car was just a bit loose. Once the green-flag run stretched on, the No. 17 Ford became loose in and off the turns. Handling issues plagued Kenseth throughout the next few runs, despite changes to air pressure and track bar setting made whenever Kenseth had the chance to pit.

Kenseth remained toward the front for a majority of the race, but the loose-handling issues returned. He fought to stay inside the top five, but dropped back as the laps wound down. Kenseth crossed the finish line in the 7th position.

Kenseth remains 11th in the standings, 149 points behind new points leader Jimmie Johnson.

Carl Edwards—Start: 31st. Finish: 6th.

The past two races have seen Carl Edwards slowly working his way toward the top of the points standings. Sunday’s race at Kansas was no exception. Edward earned his 16th top-10 finish of the season when he crossed the finish line in the 6th position. However, at first it looked like Edwards might have a lot of work to do if he wanted to get a good finish. Despite quick practice speeds, Edwards qualified in the 31st position on Friday.

Despite starting toward the back, Edwards was able to pick up positions from the second the race started on Sunday. By the time the first 20 laps were completed, he had worked his way inside the top 20. When the first caution came out on lap 42, Edward was in the 18th position. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and wedge adjustments. By lap 73, Edwards had cracked the top 10. The No. 99 Aflac Ford was a bit loose, and the crew made track bar and wedge adjustments during green-flag stops on laps 96 and 146. He was 8th when the caution came out on lap 156. Edwards pitted, and this time, crew chief bob Osborne called for a two-tire stop, which left Edwards restarting 9th due to a few cars not pitting.

With new right-side tires, Edwards moved up to 7th, but soon reported he felt a vibration that could be coming from a loose wheel. Just six laps after he reported the vibration, the caution came out when the No. 9 of Kasey Kahne hit the wall then had a left-front tire blow. Edwards and Osborne played it safe, and pitted under the caution. Sure enough, the driver’s instincts were right. There was indeed a loose wheel on the No. 99 Ford. With fresh right-side tires, Edwards restarted 9th. The caution came out again on lap 188 for the No. 7 of Kevin Conway losing an engine. The leaders hit pit road again, and Edwards made a four-tire stop and his crew made a wedge adjustment to in less than 13 seconds. A few laps after the restart, he was up to 4th. As the laps went on, the No. 99 Ford began to get tight in the center of the turns, loose off. The race remained under green for the remaining laps. Edwards stayed out to lead two laps to pick up crucial bonus points before making his final pit stop lap 238 for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment.

Edwards took the checkered flag in the 6th position. He gained two positions in the standings, up to 4th, and is 53 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

Greg Biffle—Start: 5th. Finish: 1st.

Knowing Kansas could very well be the make or break race, Greg Biffle knew he had to be on top of his game on Sunday. The No. 16 Sherwin Williams Ford looked good in practice, and Biffle backed up his practice times by laying down the 5th fastest qualifying time. Sunday’s race was one Biffle and his team had planned on winning.

Early in the race, Biffle reported his car was tight in the center of the turns, loose off. When the first caution came out on lap 42, he was in the 8th position. A pit stop for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment had him restarting in that same position. On lap 91, Biffle took the 2nd position from teammate Kenseth. Green-flag pit stops began a few laps later, and Biffle pitted for four tires, fuel, and some small adjustments to fix the tight-handling condition. Biffle’s crew, the Pit Bulls, sent him right back out in the 2nd position, and he remained in that position until the third caution of the day came out on lap 156. Crew chief Greg Erwin opted for a two-tire stop, which had Biffle restarting 5th due to the front three cars not pitting. He was back up to 2nd by lap 171, just behind the No. 14 of Tony Stewart.

The final caution came out on lap 188, and the Pit Bulls made an impressive 11.9-second stop which involved putting four fresh tires on the No. 16 Ford as well as filling with fuel and making air pressure and wedge adjustments. Biffle restarted 3rd due to the first two drivers taking only two tires under the caution. However, Biffle was ahead of Stewart for the restart. On lap 207, he took the lead and set sail, never looking back.

Biffle is no stranger to Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway, having won there in 2007, and on Sunday, he got his second Kansas win in dominating fashion, crossing the finish line nearly 8 seconds ahead of the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson. His recent victory helped him move to 8th in the standings, 85 points behind Johnson.

Race winner: Greg Biffle

By taking the checkered flag on Sunday, Biffle proved he might’ve been down the previous two Chase races, but he’s definitely not out just yet. Congratulations to
Greg Biffle and the No. 16 team on their victory!

Well, that’s three races down, seven to go. With Jimmie Johnson atop the pit standings now, will he be able to achieve the “drive for five”? Will Denny Hamlin rebound at Auto Club Speedway to reclaim the points lead? Matt Kenseth usually does well at Fontana, can he get his first Cup win of the season? Will Carl Edwards continue to climb the ranks? Those are some great questions, but with no definite answers, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Chase continues…

Next up: Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway, October 10, 2010.


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