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Bank Of America 500: Kenseth Steps Up His Game

[1]After a rough night for many of the Chase contenders at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there has been a points shakeup.  In five out of the last seven years, the driver leading to points leaving Charlotte has gone on to win the championship.  Does this give Carl Edwards the upper-hand with five points over Kevin Harvick?  Not if his teammate Matt Kenseth has anything to say about it.

Kenseth gave fans excitement after a long, mostly single-file race.  Jimmie Johnson’s late-race accident brought out the caution, giving Kenseth a chance to catch Kyle Busch on the restart.  There was a 12-lap dash to the finish and Kenseth was able to pass Busch and take the checkered flag.  This is Kenseth’s third win of the season, moving him up two positions in standings to third position.  He is now only seven points behind leader Carl Edwards.

Kenseth’s primary sponsor, Crown Royal, is exiting the team at the end of the season, leaving Kenseth without a sponsor for the 2012 season.   Kenseth said in post race interviews, “Crown Royal — it’s not too late to come back. We don’t have any sponsors for next year, so this should be a good audition. And Fluidmaster for being on this week — it was a great night for us.”

Busch wasn’t thrilled to finish in second place, after leading 111 laps during the race.  Busch said after the race, “It’s frustrating, but we’ll take it, and if we can finish second here on out, we might win this deal.”  He has now moved up four positions in standings to fourth place, 18 points behind the leader.

Bad Night for Hendrick Chase Contenders

Dale Earnhardt Jr needed a good finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway to give him any kind of chance at the championship.  After pitting too early and altering his pit strategy, he was then forced to come down pit road for a loose tire.  Earnhardt finished the night in 19th position, one lap down, and even that was a small rally, as he was running two laps down late in the race.  Junior remains ninth in standings and has fallen 60 points behind the leader.

Jeff Gordon finished the race in 21st position after being a part of the first accident of the night, involving Kasey Kahne and David Ragan.  Ragan made an attempt to pass Kasey Kahne on the inside and slid up into Kahne, sending Kahne into Gordon.  Gordon dropped from 10th to 11th in standings and is now 66 points behind the leader.

Coming off his win at Kansas Speedway last week, Jimmie Johnson was one of the drivers predicted to do well at CMS.  Johnson was running in seventh and seemed to be moving towards the front in the closing laps when the unexpected happened.  Johnson got loose inside of the No. 39 car of Ryan Newman. The two made slight contact. Johnson looked as if he was going to save until the car veered towards the outside wall, hitting it nose-first.  The front of his race car was unrepairable, and his race was over. He finished 34th.  Johnson dropped five spots in standings, leaving him eighth position, 35 points behind the leader.

Although mathematically this does not eliminate the HMS drivers, it will be very tough for them to recover from this race.

Underdogs of the Race

For more than half the race, rookie Trevor Bayne was driving his No. 21 car like a veteran.  After qualifying in tenth position in his first Cup race at CMS, Bayne stayed in the top-10 the entire night.  While running in seventh position, he ran out of gas with only 97 laps left in the race.  Instead of finishing the race in the Top 10, he finished in 31st, three laps down.  Team co-owner Eddie Wood said after the race that a problem with the new fuel system is what likely kept them from contending for the win.

Marcos Ambrose celebrated his fifth Top 5 of the season with Richard Petty Motorsports after finishing in fifth position in the Bank of America 500.  He ran in the Top 10 the entire race and overcame many cautions to hold his position on the track.  Ambrose said after the race that he has his “mojo” back.

Chase for the Sprint Cup

The current points standings are as follows: 1. Carl Edwards, 2. Kevin Harvick (-5), 3. Matt Kenseth (-7), 4. Kyle Busch (-18), 5. Tony Stewart (-24), 6. Brad Keselowski (-25), 7. Kurt Busch (-27), 8. Jimmie Johnson (-35), 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr (-60), 10. Ryan Newman (-61), 11. Jeff Gordon (-66), 12. Denny Hamlin (-86).