Back in the hunt
Biffle joins the Chase after victory at Kansas Speedway
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Greg Biffle is back in the title hunt, and Jimmie Johnson has resumed his normal spot atop the NASCAR leaderboard.
Kansas Speedway once again played a major role in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which got a whole lot tighter yesterday after a fast-paced race dominated by the title contenders.
Biffle was the first of seven in the Chase to cross the finish line at the Price Chopper 400, pulling himself out of a deep hole with seven races remaining to determine the championship.
“Everybody asked us if we’re out of the Chase, have we given up?’’ the Roush Fenway Racing driver said. “The 16 team will never give up. A win here propelled us up there. Maybe we’ll go do the same next week.’’
That had to be the thinking as nine drivers left Kansas separated by 101 points. It’s the closest the Chase field has been after three races since NASCAR switched to the format in 2004.
But there’s another telling stat that could mean trouble for everyone besides Johnson and Denny Hamlin: Only once in Chase history has the champion been ranked lower than second after Kansas. Who was that? Johnson, who rallied from eighth in points after Kansas in 2006 to win the first of his four consecutive titles.
Hamlin had his first off-race of the Chase. Like Johnson, he struggled mightily early in the race. But his adjustments were good enough for only a 12th-place finish, and Hamlin’s 35-point lead before the race began turned into an 8-point deficit heading to California.
“I knew right away we were going to have a long day,’’ Hamlin said.
Kyle Busch had early contact with David Reutimann that caused Reutimann to spin, and when they crossed paths later, Reutimann appeared to intentionally knock him into the wall. Busch was running seventh at the time, fell to 22d, and demanded over his radio that NASCAR take action against Reutimann. Crew chief Dave Rogers heightened the drama by telling Busch that Reutimann’s team demanded he retaliate against Busch.
Busch’s 21st-place finish was lowest of the Chase contenders.
Busch dropped from third to seventh in the standings and is 80 points behind Johnson.
Reutimann didn’t admit that he intentionally wrecked Busch, but had no guilt for tangling with a championship contender.
“You guys can sugarcoat it all the time, but he wrecked me,’’ Reutimann said. “You can tell me how bad he wants it, how hard he drives, how much he wants it above everybody else. That’s all fine. I don’t care if you’re in the Chase or not. You need to think about who you’re running over when you’re running over them.’’