The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the heartland of America to conduct round three of its 2010 Chase for the Championship. This Sunday’s Price Chopper 400, at the Kansas Speedway, has the makings of elevating a team as a championship contender, reviving a championship effort or sending a team back to the shop with the realization that they are no longer contenders. By the time Sunday’s race is over, we may be seeing a more accurate picture of which drivers has staying power in the Chase and which ones are out of it.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
It’s back for the second big week in a row. The number one story line is once again the penalty handed down to Richard Childress Racing’s #33 team. The latest chapter to this saga that will have everyone talking this weekend occurred last Wednesday when the National Stock Racing Commission voted unanimously to uphold that massive penalty. Childress quickly issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the decision as well as his intent to appeal the decision to the final available level: NASCAR’s Chief Appellate Officer. No date for this hearing has been set yet.
At issue here was the height of the Bowyer Chevrolet following the first Chase race held at New Hampshire nearly two weeks ago. The car passed the post race inspection, despite being very close to NASCAR’s tolerance levels. But the car was selected by NASCAR officials to be transported to their Research and Development Center for additional inspection. It was there, under more stringent inspection criteria, that the height problem was discovered.
It was believed by Childress that the left rear of the body was raised by a wrecker that pushed Bowyer’s car to victory lane after it had ran out of gas following post race victory burn outs. Childress felt he had brought along sufficient proof to last Wednesday’s hearing. He retained the services of Dr. Charles Manning, of the Raleigh-North Carolina based Accident Reconstruction Analysis, who has been providing expert testimony in court cases since 1979.
Manning’s group duplicated the post race scenario by using a wrecker and race car of the same specification as the vehicles used in the New Hampshire race. By the time the experiment was concluded, Manning felt there was no question that the wrecker was responsible for the elevation in the car’s height and informed the commissioners of his findings during last Wednesday’s appeal hearing.
Manning was equally disappointed with the decision and afterwards said “the Commission paid no attention, which says something about what’s going on in there. What we brought was positive proof that the damage was caused by the tow truck pushing the car.”
However, it’s believed that a great deal of attention was paid to the fact by the Commissioners because their deliberations took a reported five hours. During the course of this time an exasperated Childress held a large note against a window that read “order pizza and Budweiser.”
The penalty levied by NASCAR on the #33 team was huge with the biggest damage being the 150 championship points lost by Bowyer. He entered the 2010 Chase in 12th, rose to second after the New Hampshire win and then plummeted back to 12th following the penalty announcement. Adding insult to injury was a dismal day during the second Chase race at Dover last Sunday that has left Bowyer with a championship ending deficit of 235 points.
If the next level of the appeals process overturns the original decision then Bowyer and company will again become Chase contenders. If the decision is upheld then their efforts are over.
On the subject of something being over we can all stop looking for the presence of the “F” word, (feud) between Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. It appears that drivers Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin shook hands over the telephone last Tuesday to conclude their Dover dust up last Saturday that involved a heated confrontation both on and off the track.
This all started when Hamlin needlessly blasted Childress Racing in a press conference and said they deserved the harsh penalty and alleged that the height issues on the Childress cars have been an issue for quite a long time.
This angered Harvick who decided to defend the honor of Childress Racing with some on track bumping, during a Cup practice session last Saturday, followed by some chest bumping in the garage area. It created video that was seen all week long and don’t be too surprised if you see it again this weekend.
But with last Tuesday’s meeting of the minds between the two drivers, the only “F” word you’re going to hear from these two is “focus”. They’re both major players in the Chase and that’s what they will be paying attention to as it should be.
THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN
The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, WSE, has expressed full confidence in Jimmie Johnson’s current championship focus and has placed them on the top of their list to win the Kansas race at 7 to 2 odds. This is a very solid choice. Johnson is a former Kansas winner, has won the pole position for this race a series high three times and has an average finish ratio of 10.3 in eight starts.
The WSE has also expressed confidence that Sunday could be the day Kyle Busch gets his first win at Kansas and has ranked him at 7 to 1 odds. Always a threat to find a NASCAR victory lane, Busch has a Kansas average finish ratio of 24.3 in six starts.
Jeff Gordon, at 8 to 1 odds, is a rock solid wager. His personal stats at Kansas are just simply awesome. He’s a two time winner there in addition to holding the track record for top five finishes, with six, and top tens at seven. He also has a very healthy average finish ratio at Kansas of 8.9 in nine starts. In the past there has been a noticeable problem with closing the win deal when the car was running strong. The law of averages says this trend has to reverse itself sooner or later and Kansas could be the location for it.
At 10 to 1 odds you will find drivers Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart is another two time Kansas winner with an average finish of 13.2. He’s also the defending race winner. Stewart is a pre race favorite to get his Chase efforts back on track this Sunday. He’s currently tenth in the standings and 162 points out of first. Considered to be the visible strength of Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards is sixth in the standings and a viable 73 points out.
At 12 to 1 is a quartet of drivers led by previous Kansas winner Greg Biffle who has a healthy average finish ratio of 9.0. Also in this group are Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and current series points leader Denny Hamlin.
In the 18 to 1 group you will find Childress Racing drivers Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. At 25 to 1 odds are drivers Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and David Reutimann. Also at the bottom end of the WSE rankings this week is the presence of Jamie McMurray. This possible non Chase spoiler is ranked at 30 to 1 for the Kansas race. At 35 to 1 is the tandem of Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
However, it’s the 40 to 1 WSE category that could tweak some interest for those of you into long shot wagers. That where you will find former Kansas race winners Mark Martin and Ryan Newman.
Now for this week’s disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted odds are for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events. One possible alternative to gambling might be the purchase of Childress Racing souvenirs from the official NASCAR store. That presentation from the expert, at last Wednesday’s appeal hearing, had to cost Childress a fortune.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Price Chopper 400 is 267 laps/400.5 miles around the Kansas Speedway’s 1.5 mile quad oval.
The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they don’t have a guaranteed starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR’s top 35 in owner’s points. These 11 teams will have to rely on their qualifying speed to earn a berth in the race.
The Kansas Speedway first opened its gates to the public in June of 2001. The first NASCAR Cup race was held in September of that year and was won by Jeff Gordon.
Chevrolet leads the manufacturer’s standings with six wins at Kansas.
Qualifying is always important in any Sprint Cup event these days. The qualifying record for the Kansas Speedway, 180.856 MPH, was set by Matt Kenseth in October of 2005.
Two drivers, Joe Nemechek and Jimmie Johnson, has recorded wins there after starting from the pole position. Six of the nine winners came from starting positions within the top ten.
Weather should not be that big of a factor for Sunday’s race. The Kansas forecast calls for sunny skies and 69 degrees on race day.
The Price Chopper 400 will be aired live by the ESPN2 Network beginning at 12 pm eastern time. Re airs will be Monday morning, 2am et, on ESPN2 and Wednesday afternoon, 12 pm et, on SPEED.