Half way to the end of the Chase for 2011.Ã‚Â Race number 5, and the only thing that is certain now is that nothing is certain in regards to who the winner is going to be.Ã‚Â with only 20 points separating the top 8 drivers and with the big points swings that we have seen thus far, it is still almost anyone’s to win.Ã‚Â Tony Stewart wasn’t the fastest car in practice, but he was 11th quickest, so in the knockout qualifying runs he anxiously watched as 10 drivers floowed him in an attempt to knock him off the pole, all unsuccessfully. With a top speed of 191.959 mph Stewart completed his lap in 28.131 seconds Stewart will lea the field to the green for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Many had expected the lap times to increase from practice to qualifying due to an increase in the track temperature, but it wasn’t as big a swing as we have seen in the past.
“I was watching guys’ lap times, and looking at the sheet to seeing what they practiced, and it wasn’t as much [of an increase] as what we’ve seen,”Ã‚Â said Stewart. “I think, obviously, we’ve had a lot of cloud cover today and cool temperatures here the last couple of days, so I don’t think the track changed as much and got as hot during the day as what we typically see here.”
“I think that’s the reason that we didn’t have the big pick-ups. But you still anticipate that, at night, the guys are going to pick up speed. It just seems like the air’s a little muggier right now. I don’t know whether that hurt horsepower or even created more drag and kind of evened everything out.”
Matt Kenseth will start beside Stewart on the front row, with 2 of his teammates with him in the top 5.Ã‚Â Carl Edwards will start from the 3rd position on the grid, after giving us the only drama during the qualifying rounds.Ã‚Â After running what looked like the pole setting lap time for the first part of his run, his car tightened up in turns 3 and 4 causing him to lose speed and fall back to third on the grid.
“I came to the green [to start the run] and I had a ton of grip in [Turns] 3 and 4, so I was real excited to get back to 3 and 4 to do that again,” Edwards said. “And on the qualifying lap, I just got tight down there. I was just too aggressive, I think.
“But if I had it to do over again … I thought that the pole was going to be so fast that I don’t know if I could make myself slow down. If I could do it again, I think I could definitely run a little faster than we ran, but I’m sure everybody could say the same thing — so that was the best I could do.”
Edwards is ready to put last weeks near disaster of a race behind him.Ã‚Â After falling back to 2 laps down at one point, Edwards and his team captained by Bob Osbourne managed to rally back and finish on the lead lap in 5th place ahead of some much better cars, due to pit strategy at the end of the race in the succession of quick yellow flags that fell in the final laps of the race.
“It is more unpredictable,” Edwards said . “I truly went into Kansas thinking, ‘Boy, I sure hope we don’t finish second or third in this race. I’m here to win this one.’ And then about 15 laps into it, I thought, ‘Man, I’d give anything to finish second or third in this race.’ So you just don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Your best race track could end up being your worst nightmare. You just don’t know.”
“First of all, last week we got very lucky to get the breaks we got,” Edwards said. “But we did come back and we didn’t lose our heads — and I believe that comes from the maturity that we’ve built through a lot of pain and frustration through the last couple of years. When I watched some of the interviews [from Victory Lane] afterward, it reminded me of 2008.”
“I remembered how I felt in Atlanta that day when I found out the 48 had finished second. They came back that day and I could see that look in Jimmie’s eyes [last Sunday] like, ‘Man, I didn’t know they [meaning the No. 99 team of Edwards] finished fifth.’ They were probably really counting on putting a pretty good beating on us in the points. So I think to win the championship, you have to not have bad days. And I think [the Kansas finish] showed our team is better prepared to recover from some days like that than we have been in the past. … I was very proud of it. That’s the best way to put it.”
“I hope we come out of here on Saturday with a win,” Edwards said. “We have not run well at this race track. This has been one of my tougher race tracks, but this year I feel like we turned a corner with our All-Star win and our run in the 600. Our car was very fast.
“We’ve got the same kind of theory for setup and some of the same approaches for our car and our suspension as we had in the All-Star race, so I’m excited. … I hope this is the race we can turn it around and win a points race here. That would be huge.”
Although the bottom 4 of the standings are at least a full race in points behind the leader, you can’t count any of them out yet either.
In 9th place you have Dale Earnhardt Jr., sitting 43 points behind the points leader Carl Edwards.Ã‚Â We have seen a lot of improvement out of this team in the past 2 years, especially with the arrival of Steve Letarte at the beginning of the 2011 season. Letarte and Earnhardt have been working well together and improving and developing their personal communications with each other.Ã‚Â Letarte’s cheerleader style during the race works well to keep Jr’s spirits up and his head in the game.Ã‚Â Jr will break his winless streak soon, and Letarte will be cheering him on right to the checkered flag when he does.
In 10th place is Jeff Gordon, 47 points out of first.Ã‚Â Gordon also had a crew chief change at the beginning of the season moving over to Jr’s old garage in the Hendrick Motorsports complex and his finishes have improved over last year, although the consistency still isn’t as good as he would like.Ã‚Â Being 47 points out may be difficult to overcome, but with a win and a few good runs he could be back in this thing just as fast as Johnson’s was with 2 good races (2nd place and a win) moving him up 7 places in the standings in 2 races.Ã‚Â Gordon, a 4 time Champion in his own right, knows what it takes to get there and will stop at nothing to make sure his chances improve before the chase is over.
11th place in the standing is held by Ryan Newman.Ã‚Â 54 points behind the leader Newman has struggled since the chase began.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Although his team ran a consistent season his finishes have slowly dropped since the beginning of the chase.Ã‚Â This means that for them there will be more chances taken as they “Go For Broke” trying to get the win and move up in the standings as best as they can.
Last but not least in 12th place in Denny Hamlin.Ã‚Â Hamlin was the contender to be the first guy to win a Championship and knock out Johnson’s chances last year, and even leading in the points for the final 2 races, his luck ran out and Johnson took his 5th consecutive while Hamlin stood on the sidelines.Ã‚Â Hamlin barely made the chase this year after earning a wild card spot with his win total and started the chase in 12th where he has remained ever since.Ã‚Â Even still being 79 points behind the leader he is not to be counted out yet.Ã‚Â Just like Newman , Hamlin really has nothing to lose.Ã‚Â He can try things the leaders can’t in an attempt to get to the front and go fro broke to the end of the chase.Ã‚Â There is a chance that he could still win it, and however slight that chance may be, you can bet that Hamlin hasn’t shown us everything he’s got just yet.