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Kobalt Tools 500 Review: Cup Down To Edwards, Stewart

[1]Kasey Kahne drove to victory lane on Sunday to end an 81-race winless streak.  This is his first win with Red Bull Racing, and RBR’s second win in NASCAR.   He has earned more points in the last eight races than any other driver not named Edwards or Stewart.  Kahne and his current crew chief Kenny Francis will be moving to Hendrick Motorsports next season [2].

RBR announced earlier this season that they would not be returning to NASCAR in 2012 [3].  The team’s future is still uncertain, just seven days before the end of the 2011 season.  It is expected that the team will shut down at season’s end, unless owner Dietrich Mateschitz can find a buyer for the operation.

Championship Rundown

The Championship battle is now a two man show between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.  Edwards remains the point’s leader, with a three-point advantage over Stewart.  Both drivers had fast cars at Phoenix, but they were no match for Kahne.  Edwards and Stewart finished the race in second and third position, respectively.  Stewart led a race-high 160 laps.

Going into Homestead, Edwards seems to have an advantage over Stewart.  Edwards has won two of the last three races at Homestead, with an average finish of 5.7.  Stewart also has two wins at Homestead, back in 1999 and 2000.  However, Edwards has a better average finish  than Stewart, who has an average finish of 12.4.

For the first time in the past eight seasons for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson will not be eligible for the championship going into Homestead.   He finished in 14th position in Phoenix, his fifth finish outside the top-10 in nine races.  Johnson will try to keep a 10-season streak of finishing in the top five in points alive.  He is currently fifth position in points, just two points ahead of Matt Kenseth.

Rough Day for Busch and Kenseth

Kyle Busch, after being parked at Texas Motor Speedway, stepped back into Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 car at Phoenix.  He raced this weekend without his primary sponsor M&M’s after the organization decided that they did not want to be on the car for the remainder of the season.  During the first practice, Busch blew a motor, forcing him to start at the rear of the field.  To add insult to injury, as Busch was racing for third position on lap 188, he announced to the team that the engine was blowing up.  This resulted in a 36th place finish.

On the other side of the track, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth had fans thinking we were back at Martinsville Speedway.  Late in the race, Vickers slammed into straight Kenseth’s rear bumper going down the backstretch, causing major damage to Kenseth’s racecar.  Vickers claimed over the radio that Kenseth had slowed up, causing Vickers to slam into him.  Kenseth’s comments after the incident backed up that statement.

“I was out of brakes, and I was up on everybody,” he said. “I saw [Vickers] coming and I lifted at least 10 car lengths before where I would normally lift. And he drove in there at 165 miles per hour and cleaned us out.”  Kenseth finished the race in 34th position, Vickers in 23rd.