Win and you are in, or so the saying goes. Well, not if it is only your fifth race, 16 events into the season. However, running together a string of 10 straight Top Fifteens or better is easier than taking one of these contests, and Kyle Busch checked that off his “to do” list at Sonoma Sunday.
A late caution allowed him to swing in for fresh tires that he used to maximum effect as he got by Jimmie Johnson then held off Clint Bowyer and his brother for the victory. It marked his 30th Cup decision, but he now needs to get himself in the Top 30 in the season standings. He currently sits 136 points distant behind Cole Whitt for that final eligible spot where wins matter. Whitt, who has an average finish of just beyond 27th, was 22nd on Sunday, so Busch gained 25 points on the day.
Brother Kurt was second, and one does wonder just how hard he was trying to break his sibling’s heart. I am sure I know what Kurt would say, but he did not seem terribly broken up by the outcome. Bowyer jumped 25 points ahead of Carl Edwards, in points, but without a win that does not matter. Where it does matter, Clint is just a point behind the equally winless Aric Almirola, and five in arrears of Ryan Newman for the final two Chase places.
Albert Hammond was prophetic when he sang “It doesn’t rain in California,” so we saw none. What we did see was Casey Mears coming to a halt after a rear tire and attached axle housing broke free and outpaced him down the track. We saw Martin Truex Jr. force David Ragan wide into the dirt, but a small nudge later and it was Truex heading into the tires along the fence. Later, Edwards tried to avoid going off the track, nudged Ragan, and both of them found the fence. Carl was literally left sitting in 40th place.
Jeff Gordon came in to have a spring rubber removed. That takes time, and it is quicker for a crewman to toss it over the car and over the wall. Too bad NASCAR has a thing about that, so instead of re-starting 26th, he was 28th, but 36th on the track at the end of the longest line. Sixteenth was his fate. Matt Kenseth had a flat that turned into a departing carcass, but no caution, as he hit the pits and his day did the same, landing him in 21st. A.J. Allmendinger was strong early, but a fuel pressure problem crippled his day to leave him 37th.
Some seem to do well no matter what. Kevin Harvick was fourth, which is not a surprise, except for the disastrous pit stop that saw the jack come down before his left rear was even placed on the car. The end of hope for some, a beginning of a challenge for others, it would seem.
Ten races are left before the Chase positions are decided, with six of the 16 current position holders still winless, facing various degrees of vulnerability. With Kyle’s win, 32 drivers are still in the hunt, including Justin Allgaier, himself just a point behind Whitt in the rankings. A win at Daytona next Sunday would sure be sweet.
Last weekend marked the end of the NASCAR season on FOX, with Larry McReynolds leaving the announce booth in favor of Jeff Gordon when they return next February. That ends a 15-year partnership with Mike and Darrell. Personally, I think the wrong guy is leaving to join Michael Waltrip and Chris Myers down in the studio, but I do not make these Boogity-Boogity-Boogity decisions. Next week, NBC arrives back on the scene with Rick Allen, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton doing the honors.
At Daytona, we wait to see if we have a repeat winner or a new kid in the mix. We will see how the battle settles between Newman, Almirola and Bowyer for the final spots on points. We will watch how Kyle does in relation to Whitt and Allgaier. We will listen and watch, and no doubt evaluate, the new television crew. Finally, it is Daytona in the summer. What else do you need to tune in?