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Race 1: Sylvania 300

Carl Edwards started off the weekend with two dismal days of practice. He caught a break, however, when qualifying was rained out, and the field was set by owner’s point. This meant that he would start on the outside of row one. He led early and was able to pull away from the rest of the field. Around lap 66, he lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson and continued to slide. Later in the race, Edwards got back up to third and wound up finishing there.

At the drop of the green flag, Jimmie Johnson began sliding back from his third place starting position. He dropped all the way to seventh, by lap two. By lap 66, Johnson passed Edwards to take the lead. On lap 89 he relinquished the lead to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Later in the race, Johnson is leading with about 11 laps to go, when Greg Biffle made a surprise pass to the inside for the lead. The move surprised everyone, including Johnson, as most thought Biffle did not have a car to beat Johnson. As the laps wound down, Biffle pulled away and took the checkered flag. Johnson finished second.

Greg Biffle had a solid car in the beginning of the day, running in the top 10 for most of the early part of the race. On lap 154, Biffle made a green flag stop, and inhereted the lead, capitalizing on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s minor mistake on pit road. Jr and Biffle traded the lead a couple of times. As the race wound down, Biffle looked to have a strong car, but not strong enough to take the lead from Johnson. On a retart on lap 287, Biffle was running behind race-leader Johnson. Two laps later, he made a surprising move, passing Johnson and pulling away. Some thought he might have been conserving fuel, making his car look a little slower than it acutally was. He won the race by about a half of a second.

Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s first race in the Chase was pretty much the same as most of his races this season. Early on, Jr had a solid car, running in the top 5. On lap 89, Jr took the lead and pulled away from the field. He appeared to have the car to beat. But, he struggled to put cars a lap down. Still, his car was good enough to hold the lead. On lap 158, Jr pitted. His jackman and front tire changer bumped into each other throwing the rhythm of the pit stop off slightly. This allowed Biffle to take the lead when pit stops cycled through. After the stop, Jr managed to regain the lead for 10 laps, but then his tires started to go away. He dropped to eigth position by lap 198. The team made the car better, but it was not as dominant as it had been. He finished fifth.

Jeff Burton had a pretty quiet day. He ran in the top 10 most of the day, and was virtually unnoticed until the end of the day, when he and Jr bumped in the closing laps, as the two raced for fourth. Burton held the position and finished the race there.

Denny Hamlin also had a pretty quiet day. He flew under the radar most of the day running in the low teens and the top 10. Under caution on lap 224, Hamlin gave up second to make a pit stop to top off on fuel. Most of the field could not make to the end at that point. The gamble, however, did not pay off as most of the drivers did not come down pit road because they got enough cautions to make it. Hamlin finished ninth.

Tony Stewart had an interesting day to say the least. Under caution at lap 83, Stewart and Johnny Sauter got together on pit road, causing a fender rub for Stewart. He had to come back down pit road to get it fixed. This pushed him back to 35th. On his pit stop on lap 159, Stewart was penalized for too fast exiting pit road, and had to come back in. He was one lap down scored in 29th position. He rallied, though, to finish eighth.

Kyle Busch, the driver favored to win the Sprint Cup championship, had a catastrophic first race in the Chase. His sway bar broke just after the race began and he started dropping back. The team opted to wait for the competition caution at lap 35, rather than bringing him to pit road under green. He nursed the car until the caution came out, nearly wrecking at least once. He lost two laps while the team worked on the car, but they never got it right. On lap 83, Busch spun out, but managed to avoid hitting anything. But, David Ragan and Jamie McMurray also got together, and McMurray slammed into Busch’s car, which was resting on the straightaway following his spin. He sustained heavy damage. He wound up finishing 34th.

Clint Bowyer had two dominating practice sessions and many thought he had the car to beat. But, when the green flag dropped, he was never really a factor. He did run up front, hanging in the top 10 but was never a serious threat to win. He finished outside the top 10 in 12th.

Kevin Harvick had an up and down day. In the early going he dropped back to 20th with an ill-handling racecar. He ran in the teens for the middle part of the race and was never a factor. He rallied to finish 10th.

Jeff Gordon also had an up and down day. His car was a little off, and he hung around the top 10 most of the day. Pit stops were a problem for Gordon because he had to keep backing up to exit his pits because Robby Gordon was pitting far back in his box. This happened a few times. Gordon finished 14th.

Matt Kenseth was the only Chase driver to have a worse day than Kyle Busch. He too had a middle-of-the-pack car, but managed to hang around in the teens for a good portion of the day. On lap 229, however, Kenseth’s day would come to an end. Chad McCumbee got loose and spun up the track, making contact with Kenseth’s left front, ripping the fender. Kenseth made contact with the wall. Right after that David Gilliland t-boned Kenseth. He finished 40th.