The big story was the points battle. Who would have guessed that 2005 NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart would miss The Chase? Kasey Kahne did exactly what he needed to do. He finished a strong third today and put himself in position to capitalize when Stewart struggled.
Rookie Denny Hamlin started on the pole for the Chevy Rock 'n Roll 400. Jeff Burton who came into the race tenth in points helped his chances to stay in the top ten with a strong second place starting spot. Ninth place Mark Martin also had a good run and started fourth.
The rest of the top five were also Chase drivers as Jeff Gordon started third and Kevin Harvick rolled off fifth.
Kasey Kahne didn't start off his weekend quite as well as he would have liked. Kasey Kahne was eleventh in points, trying to battle his way into the top ten. Kahne only managed a 20th place qualifying effort. However, eighth place Tony Stewart crashed in practice and only managed a 40th place start in his backup car.
Drop The Green Flag
Denny Hamlin jumped out to the early lead over Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. Harvick was slicing through the field towards the front. Harvick took over the top spot on lap twenty.
On lap 35 Tony Stewart got into the back of Sterling Marlin and spun him up into the wall. This caution worked out well for Tony since the leaders were closing in and threatening to put him a lap down. This raises the question if Tony maybe did it on purpose?
When the green flag flew Kasey Kahne was in the top ten and Tony Stewart was not because of his terrible qualifying spot. After a series of yellow flag pit stops around lap 85 Tony Stewart had worked himself back into tenth in points.
On lap 173 Mark Martin was sliding back and Kasey Kahne was charging forwards. Kahne climbed back into the top ten and Mark slid to eleventh in points. Then the green flag on lap 228 saw Mark Martin back in the top ten and Tony Stewart back in jeopardy as pit stops shuffled the running order.
Inside the last 100 laps of the race Tony Stewart fell off the lead lap. Tony's chances of making The Chase were slipping through his fingers.
While it is incredible to imagine The Chase without Tony Stewart, this is the nature of NASCAR. The Chase format highlights the competitiveness of NASCAR as there are no guarantees, even for the defending Champion.
Chasing The Checkers
As they closed in on the checkered flag Kyle Busch had the lead over Kevin Harvick. Harvick was closing in, but rapidly running out of time. Harvick got under him as they came to the white flag and held on to take the win.
In The Race to The Chase there was drama and doubt down to the final lap but in the end Tony Stewart could not overcome his practice crash. Having to go to the backup car for this critical race was more than he could conquer as his team never got the car hooked up and Tony couldn't manage a good enough finish to make the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Kasey Kahne
- Dave Blaney
- Mark Martin
- Greg Biffle
- Kenny Schrader
- Matt Kenseth
- Jeff Burton
- Scott Riggs
The Race to The Chase is done and the top ten are now locked in. In a shocking twist, the defending NEXTEL Cup Champion is not in The Chase. Tony Stewart just couldn't get it done in his backup car and Kasey Kahne drove another strong race to get it done.
The top ten in points are now:
- Matt Kenseth -0
- Jimmie Johnson -5
- Kevin Harvick -10
- Kyle Busch -15
- Denny Hamlin -20
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -25
- Mark Martin -30
- Jeff Burton -35
- Jeff Gordon -40
- Kasey Kahne -45
The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup kicks off next week at New Hampshire International Speedway. The top ten are locked in and their points have been reset. Tenth place Kasey Kahne is now just 45 points behind the leader. NASCAR's playoffs start next Sunday and it is going to be a great battle for these last ten races!