The second half of the 2012 Chase for The Sprint Cup kicked off today at Kansas Speedway, and it lived up to high expectations after yesterday’s Nationwide race.
Before the race even started, news broke: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was cleared to race Martinsville this coming weekend. However, halfway through the race, team owner Rick Hendrick clarified the announcement. Earnhardt Jr. will test at Gresham Motorsports Park with Dr. Jerry Petty riding alone to see his performance. They will then go back to Dr. Petty’s office and do more crash-simulations. The official statement should be expected Tuesday from the doctor whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. is OK to wheel the #88.
Now, to the racing. If you can count what we saw today as racing.
We saw a record-breaking amount of cautions, where a range of drivers were involved, from Danica Patrick to Kyle Busch to Jimmie Johnson. There wasn’t a long green flag run until the end, which threw everyone for a loop.
Matt Kenseth was a quiet contender all day, but he made noise when he had to. He captured the win, four weeks removed from leaving Roush-Fenway Racing at the end of the season. In Victory Lane, Kenseth seemed to get a bit emotional, lame duck-ness possibly sinking in.
Through various yellows and wrecks, the top two in points stayed the same, Brad Keselowski holding a seven-point lead over Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson’s points position is a surprise. While back in 21st, the car snapped loose, and Johnson spun, tagging the wall. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for multiple stops to pit road under cautions, somehow keeping his driver on the lead lap. By the time the repairs were finished, the car looked brand-new. Putting the pedal to the metal, Johnson rallied to finish ninth. The performance we saw out of Jimmie and that team prove exactly why they are five-time champions.
Other Chasers that had a decent day: Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, and Martin Truex Jr., all finishing in the top six.
The one driver who finished in the top 6 that was a surprise? Paul Menard, who showed strength yesterday in the NNS race. He brought the car home in third. This was the first race where Menard was back with crew chief Slugger Labbe after penalties separated the two.
Denny Hamlin finished thirteenth, himself disappointed with the result. Not much ground gained or lost, yet they expected more, since he won at this track back in April.
So, we go into Martinsville, a wild card after another wild card. The paperclip-shaped short track is bound to shake things up. We shall see who will rise to the top and who will slink to the bottom.
Here are the points after Kansas:
Brad Keselowski (–)
Jimmie Johnson (-7)
Denny Hamlin (-20)
Clint Bowyer (-25)
Kasey Kahne (-30)
Martin Truex Jr. (-43)
Tony Stewart (-47)
Jeff Gordon (-51)
Matt Kenseth (-55)
Kevin Harvick (-59)
Greg Biffle (-62)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-122)