With the wind whipping as is so typical in the land of Toto and Aunty Em, the fourth race in the Chase, the 11th Annual Hollywood Casino 400, was run at the 1.5 mile paved tri-oval that is Kansas Speedway. Here is what was surprising and not so surprising from the 267 laps, 400.5 mile race.
[media-credit id=2 align=”alignright” width=”231″][/media-credit]Surprising: It has been a bit surprising just how much the race winner has seemingly been toying with not only the media, but the race fans. At the beginning of the Chase, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson had fallen from eighth to tenth in the point standings, particularly due to his 18th place finish at Loudon.
At that point, many media pundits had begun to write off the chances for a sixth consecutive championship, especially since the tension seemed to be mounting between the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet and his crew chief Chad Knaus.
Yet Jimmie Johnson again proved that he still has what it takes by scoring his 55th career victory and his 20th career victory in the Chase, the latter being the most ever, tying him with Rusty Wallace for eighth on the all-time wins list.
And, yes, ‘old five time’ has yet again made his way toward the top of the leader board, up two positions to third, just four points out of the coveted top spot.
“I told you not to count him out,” Hendrick Motorsport teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said. “I think the media made a big deal out of the runs he was having and they were a long ways out of the lead in the points.”
“But that’s a great race team,” Junior continued. “You don’t win five in a row on luck, you know? You don’t just trip over the championship trophy; you do it because you’re great.”
“And they’ll win the championship this year if anybody doesn’t get going.”
Not Surprising: Although most often it is the female fan base flirting with this driver, Kasey Kahne, behind the wheel of the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota for the remaining races of the season before heading to Hendrick Motorsports next year, continues to flirt with a race win.
To no one’s surprise, Kahne finished second, scoring his third top-10 finish in nine races at Kansas, as well as his 10th top-10 finish in 2011.
“The biggest thing to me would be to leave on a good note,” Kahne said. “There are a lot of people there working really hard and unsure about maybe their future and where they’re going to work next year, and they’re still putting everything they have into our race cars each week.”
“That’s pretty awesome on their part.”
Surprising: In addition to the wind, there was also a good deal of smoke, of all sorts, in Kansas City. The driver known as ‘Smoke’, was instead the cause of some, smoking his tires on a pit stop, causing him to not only slide wildly through his box but also lose eight positions on the track.
Tony Stewart, piloting his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, finished the race in the 15th position and fell four positions to seventh in the Chase standings.
‘Smoke’ immediately admitted his error, telling his team that his foot had accidentally hit the accelerator when he was trying to brake. But the uncharacteristic error caused the driver to come out as the last car on the lead lap, relegating him to a less-than-stellar finish.
Another surprising bit of smoke at Kansas was the one that erupted on lap 265 when four-time champ Jeff Gordon’s engine expired. The driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, who looked strong all race long, finished 34th, dropping him to tenth in the point standings, 47 points out of first.
“I started seeing smoke inside the car,” Gordon said. “We had a really bad restart and got shuffled back.”
“Our day was pretty much over and we were going to finish maybe 15th or something,” Gordon continued. “I started to smell burning oil and saw the oil temp start to come up.”
“I felt like it was just a matter of time before it blew up.”
Not Surprising: Although actually gaining one position in the point standings, from tenth to ninth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the HMS No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, to no one’s surprise now seems to be focusing more on race wins than a championship.
“I just want to win a race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s a goal of mine right now to just go out there and win.”
“Man, if we could do that, that would really, no matter what happened in the Chase, I think we’d be real happy with our season.”
Surprising: While loose and tight are most often descriptors for action on the track, it is surprising that those words also apply to Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch.
On one hand, the driver of the No. 2 Blue Deuce seems to be looser than loose, finishing third in the Kansas race. This was Keselowski’s second top-10 finish in four races at Kansas Speedway.
And that top-5 finish moved the driver up two spots to fourth in the Chase, just eleven points behind the leader.
“This year, it seems like as a group, we’re just clicking,” Keselowski said. “We’re doing a good job of maximizing our day and taking care of everything that’s in our control.”
“I’m really proud of our team for doing that.”
On the flip side, Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch just seems tight, tight, tight behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge. Busch managed to finish 13th, but still lost two spots in the Chase standings to the sixth position.
“We got behind in qualifying and had to start 17th,” Busch said. “We ran from 15th to 20th most of the day and caught a break; we got the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap.”
“We were still a top-10 car when the green-white-checker came out but just couldn’t hold on to a top 10,” Busch continued. “The fresher tires got us.”
Not Surprising: There were at least two ‘come back kids’ that surprised no one. The first was the driver of the No. 99 Alfac Ford, Carl Edwards, who rallied from a too-aggressive set up prior to the race, relegating him to needing to be the ‘lucky dog’ to finish fifth.
With that top-five finish, Edwards scored the points lead, just one point over second place Kevin Harvick.
“I cannot believe we finished fifth,” Edwards said. “It feels like a win.”
“That’s the best we’ve done with the worst,” Edwards continued. “I just cannot believe from the way the day started to finish like that is spectacular.”
The other ‘comeback kid’ was Greg Biffle. Although not in the Chase, the driver of the No. 16 Sherwin-Williams Ford and pole sitter for the race, rallied back from a pit road speeding penalty to finish eighth.
“Our car wasn’t that good,” Biffle said. “I don’t know what happened with the speeding on pit road.”
“That was stupid,” Biffle said. “My car just wasn’t that good in traffic, which is where I got hurt there at the end.”
Surprising: There was a surprising rash of drivers missing driver introductions prior to the Hollywood Casino 400. A.J. Allmendinger, David Reutimann and Reed Sorenson all had to move to the back of the field for the start of the race due to their absence at the pre-race intros.
Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford, finished the best of the group at 25th. Reutimann, behind the wheel of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, finished 35th and Sorenson, who had lost his Turner Motorsports Nationwide ride, finished 38th in his No. 7 SPEED Energy/MAPEI/Menards Dodge Cup ride.
Not Surprising: With his career decided, it was not surprising that the driver of the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing finished top-10. Prior to the race festivities, Bowyer confirmed that he will move in 2012 to the Michael Waltrip Racing stables.
“All in all, it wasn’t a bad day,” Bowyer said. “That’s the last time I’ll be able to run here with these cars.”
“Hopefully, we’ll get one next time.”
Surprising: Hendrick Motorsports is surprisingly close to scoring a record of its own thanks to driver Johnson taking the checkered flag. HMS is just shy of their 200th win, which would put them squarely behind Richard Petty Motorsports with 268 all-time wins.
Not Surprising: To no one’s surprise, again thanks to Johnson’s win, Chevrolet clinched their 35th Cup manufacturer’s championship, assuming a Chevrolet will start each of the final six races.