Bowyer solid, but slim title hopes are gone
By Jeff Wolfe
Clint Bowyer knew coming into Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Texas that his chances for his first Sprint Cup title were slim as he was 26 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. And while Bowyer had a solid day with a sixth-place finish, Johnson and second-place Brad Keselowski finished one-two, all but ending Bowyer’s chances. While Bowyer was in the top-five much of the day, he never led a lap and his sixth-place finish leaves him 36 points behind Johnson with just two races remaining in the season.
Another big points loser on the day was Kasey Kahne. While he was pretty much out of title contention at 29 points back coming into Sunday, he ended up finishing 25th one lap down and is now 58 points behind Johnson.
While Johnson won his fifth race of the year and gained five points on Keselowski, there’s also the argument that it was a good day for Keselowski. The driver of the No. 2 Dodge had an average finish of 25th in his career at Texas, so while he was in contention to win at the end, his second-place finish certainly broke what had been a poor trend for him at the 1.5-mile oval.
The bad luck award of the day for a Chase driver had to go to Kevin Harvick, and it occurred long before the race started. Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet was parked about two hours before the race when a sand bag fell from a parachutist and hit his driver side door, placing a sizable dent in it. After consulting with NASCAR, Harvick’s team was allowed to replace the door before the race and he went on to finish ninth.
That still leaves him 101 points out of the Chase and left him and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as the first two drivers officially eliminated from title contention. Earnhardt Jr. rallied from 21st to finish seventh, but his chances were done in earlier in the Chase when he had to miss two consecutive races due to a concussion. Earnhardt Jr. is 151 points behind Johnson.
Two Chase contenders to have good days were Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Kenseth finished fourth, including leading one lap for a bonus point, and Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup champion and the winner of the fall Texas race last year, took fifth.
Texas has traditionally been a good track for Denny Hamlin, who had won two of the last five races there, but he was never in contention Sunday and ended up with a 20th-place finish. Just two weeks ago he was considered a title contender but after electrical problems last week, he is now seventh in the Chase 73 points behind Johnson.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon was also having a decent day, but a tire issue cost him late in the race. What could have easily been a top-10 finish left him in 14th. He is now tied with Kenseth for fifth in the Chase as they are each 72 points back, with Kenseth holding the tiebreaker with more wins this year.
Two other Chasers to have OK days were Greg Biffle in 10th and Martin Truex, Jr. in 13th. Biffle is tenth in points, 83 behind and Truex Jr. is ninth, 80 behind, as is seventh-place Stewart. Those drivers will need to leave Phoenix next week less than 48 points behind Johnson in order to have a mathematical shot at the title.
Chase for the Championship Standings: 1) Jimmie Johnson 2339; 2) Brad Keselowski -7, 3) Clint Bowyer -36, 4) Kasey Kahne -58, t-5) Matt Kenseth -72, t-5) Jeff Gordon -72, 7) Denny Hamlin -73, t-8) Tony Stewart -80, t-8) Martin Truex, Jr. -80, 10) Greg Biffle -83, 11) Kevin Harvick -101, 12) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -151
Best of the Rest: 13) Kyle Busch 1048, 14) Ryan Newman -79, 15) Carl Edwards -83, 16) Paul Menard -110, 17) Joey Logano -130, 18) Marcos Ambrose -156.
Race Winners: Matt Kenseth (Daytona 500. Talladega 2, Kansas 2), Denny Hamlin (Phoenix, Kansas, Bristol 2, Atlanta, New Hampshire 2), Tony Stewart (Las Vegas, Fontana, Daytona 2), Brad Keselowski (Bristol, Talladega, Kentucky, Chicagoland 2, Dover 2), Ryan Newman (Martinsville), Greg Biffle (Texas, Michigan 2), Kyle Busch (Richmond), Jimmie Johnson (Darlington, Dover, Indianapolis, Martinsville 2, Texas 2), Kasey Kahne (Charlotte, New Hampshire), Joey Logano (Pocono 1), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Michigan 1), Clint Bowyer (Sonoma, Richmond 2, Charlotte 2), Jeff Gordon (Pocono 2), Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen).
Tracking the Top 35: The gap grows just a bit
The gap between the 35th and 36th place remained large after Sunday’s race at Texas even though it shrunk by 18 points to 72. The top-35 in points are guaranteed a starting spot in each week’s race, and as has been the case since the first two months of the season, the margin remains a wide one. NASCAR announced last month that the top-35 rule would not be in effect next year.
The No. 36 car driven by Dave Blaney finished 39th and sits in the 35th spot, while the No. 21 car driven by Trevor Bayne finished 22nd, including leading four lalps. Bayne is driving a partial schedule for the Wood Brothers this season.
Here’s your owners point standings around the all-important cutoff…
29) Front Row Motorsports (No. 34 – David Ragan), 273 points ahead of 36th.
30) Front Row Motorsports (No. 38 – David Gilliland), 261 points ahead of 36th.
31) Germain Racing (No. 13 – Casey Mears), 250 points ahead of 36th.
32) BK Racing (No. 83 – Landon Cassill), 237 points ahead of 36th.
33) Tommy Baldwin Racing / Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 10 – Danica Patrick), 157 points ahead of 36th.
34) FAS Lane Racing (No. 32 – Ken Schrader), 146 points ahead of 36th.
35) Tommy Baldwin Racing (No. 36 – Dave Blaney), 72 points ahead of 36th.
36) Wood Brothers Racing (No. 21 – Trevor Bayne), 72 points behind 35th.
37) Circle Point, LLC (No. 33 – Stephen Leicht), 153 points behind 35th.
38) Inception Motorsports (No. 30 – David Stremme), 175 points behind 35th.
39) Phil Parsons Racing (No. 98 – Michael McDowell), 207 points behind 35th.
40) Front Row Motorsports (No. 26 – Josh Wise), 236 points behind 35th.