NASCAR Driver Capsules, Sept. 12

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Sep 12 2013 10:18:37 AM EDT

Chris Keane/Reuters

Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth moved from sixth to first once the points were reset after Richmond on Saturday in preparation for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs. Kenseth leads former points leader Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch - tied for second - by three points each heading into Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

CHICAGO RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2005 and 2007. Finished 18th in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth starts the Chase as the No. 1 seed by virtue of having a series-leading five wins. If he continues at the pace he's enjoyed during the first 26 races, Kenseth could potentially win two or maybe even three more races in the Chase as he pursues his second career Cup championship (also won in 2003, the final season before the Chase format began in 2004). Here's his thoughts on the Chase: "I'm as confident going there as anywhere else. Each point in every race is equally important, so I don't really buy into that (some races in the Chase are bigger than others) as big as some people. You don't want to have any bad races. Certainly, don't want to have a bad first one, but you don't want to have any bad ones. You want to start strong and finish strong."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth assured himself the top spot in the reset Sprint Cup standings after Richmond with a strong sixth-place finish there.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 99.9 percent (3,203) of the 3,207 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 17.1, while his average finish is 12.8. He has zero DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After holding first place for 20 straight weeks, Jimmie Johnson fell to a tie for second place in the standings with Kyle Busch after the points were reset in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Johnson and Busch trail new points leader Matt Kenseth by three points and are six points ahead of the fourth-place tie between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

CHICAGO RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 6 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Finished second in this race last year (after starting from the pole.

LOOKING AHEAD: Chicagoland Speedway is one of only five tracks Johnson has not won upon in the Sprint Cup Series. Given his terrible run of bad luck in the last four races, he could get back on-track in a big way and check off Chicagoland from his bucket list with a win there on Sunday. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We have been close so many times at Chicago. We always run well there. I don't know what it is. We just haven't gotten the win. Since Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is from the area (Rockford, Ill., about 100 miles away), we really want to get a win for him. There's always a little concern (about his recent struggles). Without a doubt, you want to enter the Chase with momentum. I think every team falls back on past history. I'm going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago. I'm going to go in there with confidence that I can go out and win because I know I can. We're going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson had his fourth straight poor finish: 40th (Michigan), 36th (Bristol) 28th (Atlanta) and 40th (Richmond). He needs to get back on track during the Chase, or it could be a quick exit for him.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 98.4 percent (2,894) of the 2,940 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start there is an outstanding 7.5 and average finish is 9.3. He has one DNF there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After being in fifth place for the five previous weeks, Kyle Busch moved into a tie for second place in the standings with Jimmie Johnson after the points were reset in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Johnson and Busch trail new points leader Matt Kenseth by three points and are six points ahead of the fourth-place tie between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

CHICAGO RECORD: 8 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished fourth in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: With many fans and reporters alike picking him to win this year's championship, Busch comes into this year's Chase with a great deal of confidence. Here's his thoughts: "We've been very good with our 1.5-mile stuff this year. Chicago, in particular, really turned around for us starting last year. I'm looking forward to Chicago this weekend. I like going there. We were able to test there a few weeks back and I feel like we learned a few things that will help us. I think we've got a great team and I'm sure we'll be working hard to try to win and get off to a good start in the Chase."

LOOKING BACK: Busch struggled in the final pre-Chase race at Richmond, finishing 19th. Even so, he was already locked into the Chase.

ETC.: Busch has completed 99.5 percent (2,128) of the 2,139 total laps contested in eight career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 15.4, while his average finish is 13.4. He has one DNF there. ... Busch's wife Samantha is from St. John, Ind., about 45 miles from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After 10 weeks in fourth place, by an ironic twist, Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place after the points were reset after Richmond in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Harvick is tied with Carl Edwards for fourth, is nine points behind new points leader Matt Kenseth and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano and Greg Biffle by three points each.

CHICAGO RECORD: 12 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 and 2002. Was 12th in this race last year after finishing runner-up in the 2011 race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick begins his final Chase and final 10 races with Richard Childress Racing this Sunday. There'd be no better way to kick things off than with a win. Here's his thoughts: "I really like tracks like Chicagoland where the surface is a little bit worn out, because it makes for better racing. We were fortunate to win the first couple of races here, so Chicagoland has always been a really good race track for us as far as fans and following, too. DeLana (wife) and I always enjoy coming in early for the Chase kick off, going into the city and having a couple of low-key days before the weekend gets started."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick fought an ill-handling race car for much of Saturday's race at Richmond. While he didn't have a car to win, he did manage a respectable 11th-place finish.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.5 percent (3,190) of the 3,207 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 18.8 and average finish is 10.5. He has zero DNFs there.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards dropped from third to fifth place after the points were reset following last Saturday's race at Richmond in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Edwards is tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth, is nine points behind new points leader Matt Kenseth and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano and Greg Biffle by three points each.

CHICAGO RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2010. Was 19th in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards comes into the Chase with momentum, having won Saturday at Richmond. He's still smarting from coming so close to capturing the title in 2011 (lost in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart) and then missing the Chase entirely last year. However, he has had his struggles at times at Chicagoland. Still, he feels very confident coming into the Chase opener: "We're gonna win the championship. That's our mission. That seemed like a crazy idea about a month-and-a-half ago, but Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) and these guys have buckled down. We've got two guys in the Chase (including teammate Greg Biffle). This championship would mean the world to me. The next 10 weeks, we're gonna be on them hard. They're gonna know we're here."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards led 46 laps, but none were more important than the last one Saturday at Richmond, as he managed to get past race leader Paul Menard on a restart with three laps left and sailed on to his second win of the season.

ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.4 percent (2,040) of 2,139 total laps contested in eight career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 14.6 and average finish is 16.6. He has zero DNFs there.

22 JOEY LOGANO, FORD

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing from 16th to eighth in the regular season standings over the previous four races, Joey Logano continued his uphill climb after Richmond, moving into a tie for sixth place with Greg Biffle after the points were reset for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Logano and Biffle are 12 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth, three points behind the fourth-place tie of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, and lead a five-way tie for eighth place with the remaining Chase-eligible drivers.

CHICAGO RECORD: 4 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 1 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 7th in 2012. Finished a career-best seventh in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: With defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski having failed to make this year's Chase, Logano is Penske Racing's only hope to win a title this season. It's also Logano's first career Chase. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's Chase kickoff race: "It does feel pretty good to be in the Chase. That's a testament to this team. We are going to go out there and try to run as solidly as we have been running the last several months. But I think we are legitimate contenders. I think we have as good of a shot as anyone. We are running really strong right now. If we can keep it up, we can win this Championship for sure. We have 10 races to prove it."

LOOKING BACK: Logano had struggles almost the entire race at Richmond. He eventually finished 22nd, one lap down from the leaders.

ETC.: Logano has completed 99.9 percent (1,067) of the 1,068 total laps contested in four career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 15.5 and average finish is 15.0. He has zero DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle remained in ninth place in the standings after the points were reset in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs. He's tied with Joey Logano, 12 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth, three points behind the fourth-place tie of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, and lead a five-way tie for eighth place with the remaining Chase-eligible drivers.

CHICAGO RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2008. Finished 13th in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle is known as an excellent driver on 1.5-mile tracks - except at Chicagoland, where he has managed just one top-10 in 10 starts. He can't explain his lack of success, but is definitely looking to turn it around this Sunday: " I'm really excited about going to Chicago and being in the Chase. We struggled at Chicago last year, but this year we've focused a lot of our effort on being ready for this weekend. We are much better prepared than last year."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle was hoping for a top-10 finish at Richmond to send him into the Chase, but fell just a little bit short, finishing 12th.

ETC.: Biffle has completed 98.2 percent (2,625) of the 2,673 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 15.7 and average finish is 18.2. He has one DNF there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer took a big hit in the standings once the points were reset for the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs, dropping from second place for eight consecutive weeks to a five-way tie for eighth place for the Chase. He trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by 15 points and is three points behind the sixth-place tie of Joey Logano and Greg Biffle.

CHICAGO RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2010. Finished 10th in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has been one of the most consistent drivers when it comes to getting top 10s at Chicagoland, with six in his seven starts there. But he's never managed to win there yet. Given the scandal with Michael Waltrip Racing that caused teammate Martin Truex Jr. to be disqualified, Bowyer will have his work cut out for him in the Chase. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It's kind of hard to celebrate with all this stuff going. We'll get this behind us and go on. It's been a long year, it's crazy to think that all this comes down to the end every year here, but it does. A bunch of cars racing out there for everything. It's unfortunate that some good cars had to lose this deal because they're plenty capable of winning a championship. I'm telling you, in this sport right now I think 14 to 15 cars have a legitimate shot of giving it a run for the championship. It wasn't our night (at Richmond), but hopefully it will be next week."

LOOKING BACK: After leading 72 laps, Bowyer spun out with seven laps left, eventually befallen by a blown tire. He ultimately finished a disappointing 25th.

ETC.: Bowyer has completed 100 percent (1,872) of the 1,872 total laps contested in seven career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 15.0 and average finish is an outstanding 10.1. He has zero DNFs there.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped from seventh to a five-way tie for eighth place after the points were reset for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs. He trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by 15 points and is three points behind the sixth-place tie of Joey Logano and Greg Biffle.

CHICAGO RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2005. Finished eighth in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: If Earnhardt is to have any chance of winning his first career Sprint Cup championship, he has to kick off the Chase Sunday at Chicagoland with a strong finish. Given that he has not won a race since June 2012, there'd be no better way to start off than with a win. Here's Earnhardt's thoughts on starting the Chase: "We are pretty excited to be in the Chase. I'm real confident in our ability to perform well enough in these 10 races. We're going to work real hard, and I think we've got as good a shot as anybody, so we're going to go in there with a good attitude and work real hard and see what we get. It all starts at Chicago, and I'm looking forward to getting in the car and seeing what we've got."

LOOKING BACK: After finishing eighth at Atlanta the week before, Earnhardt failed to lead a lap at Richmond and finished a still-decent 13th.

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.1 percent (3,145) of the 3,207 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 17.0, while his average finish is 14.2. He has one DNF there.

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kurt Busch climbed from 10th place into a five-way tie eighth place once the points were reset after Richmond in preparation for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoffs. Busch trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by 15 points and is three points behind the sixth-place tie of Joey Logano and Greg Biffle.

CHICAGO RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 6 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Sixth in 2002, 2007 and 2011. Finished 32nd in this race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch and Furniture Row Racing made NASCAR history by becoming the first single-car team to ever make the Chase. Now it's time to take the next step and for Busch to go for his second career Cup championship (he won the first Chase playoffs in 2004). Here's his thoughts on what he faces in the Chase: "My fondness for Chicago has been well documented over the years. It is indeed my kind of town. I am hoping my fondness for Chicago will rub off at Chicagoland Speedway and I'll have a breakthrough race there on Sunday afternoon. I have had six top-10's there (in 12 starts), but not a win or even a top-five. It's time to change that. This single-car, Furniture Row Racing team continues to grab traction and move the needle forward. We have a good 10 weeks ahead of us and have some muscle to flex. It's a great feeling to make the Chase and be here with the big dogs as we compete for the Sprint Cup championship. We made history by becoming the first single-car team to make the Chase and now we're in position to become the first single-car team to win the championship since 1992 when Alan Kulwicki captured the title."

LOOKING BACK: Busch knew what he had to do at Richmond to assure he'd make the Chase, and did exactly that, leading 73 laps en route to a runner-up finish behind race winner Carl Edwards.

ETC.: Busch has completed just 91.2 (2,924) of the 3,207 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Chicagoland. His average start is 21.2, while his average finish is 18.2. He has one DNF there.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 15 points out of first.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Finished third last year for his third top-six finish in the last four races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne admits "the pressure's on you each week (in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship) from the driver to the team to the pit guys on Sundays. It's a tough part of the season, but it's what we're all here for, - to step up when it really counts and make things happen. I know we have a really strong team. If we can run strong the next few weeks, I think we'll be in a really good spot. We just need to try and put those final 10 races together. That's what it's all about."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne hoped to race his way into the top 10 in the point standings so he could earn six bonus points for his two wins. But he struggled all night and finished 14th to earn the first of the two wild-card spots in the Chase. "Just glad we had it wrapped up because we were struggling throughout the race," said Kahne. "Just off. Never really got it figured out. I haven't been able to figure this place (Richmond) out. I don't know if it's the way I drive this track or if we're missing it setup-wise. I'm not sure. I'm definitely glad this one isn't one of the final 10."

ETC.: Kahne believes his team is very capable of winning the championship. "I would say the majority of the season we've had as much speed as anybody, and if we can put that together for nine or ten of these next 10 races, we'll definitely have a shot."

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 15 points out of first.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Finished fifth a year ago for his fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman is now part of the 2013 Chase for the Championship. He admits "I was really shocked" when NASCAR called him Monday night to tell him that they had penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of Saturday night's race at Richmond. The penalties included a 50-point penalty for Martin Truex, Jr., which dropped him out of a tie with Newman for the final wild card spot. Truex had won the tiebreaker because of his second-place finish at Texas earlier this year. "I feel bad for Martin," said Newman. "I want to go out and do the best I can in the Chase and do the best I can for my team, but at the same time, I'm disappointed my buddy isn't part of it. I feel he didn't know anything about it and he had the carpet ripped out from underneath him. And I know exactly how that feels."

LOOKING BACK: Newman was leading the Richmond race after running down and passing Carl Edwards with 10 laps to go. Newman seemed en route to his second win of the season and a guaranteed spot in the Chase. Then with seven laps remaining, Clint Bowyer, Truex' teammate at MWR, spun to bring out the yellow flag. Newman lost the race off pit road, coming out fifth. He rallied to finish third. "What happened to me Saturday night is the toughest thing I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down," added Newman. "We could have won it on pit road. Instead, we lost it on pit road."

ETC.: Newman said Bowyer called him Monday night to apologize "about 10 minutes after NASCAR called. He said he was frustrated since he had a car that could have won the race if that earlier yellow flag hadn't come out. Sometimes we do stupid things when we are frustrated. I could tell by the sound of his voice, I really feel he was genuine with his remorse. He said it was a heat of the moment thing, and he told me the biggest thing was he was glad NASCAR did what they did and took the action they did to get me in the Chase. But, no, he did not say with the exact words that he spun on purpose."

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: One win and seven top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon admits "we haven't had the year this team is capable of, and that's where our focus (for the rest of 2013) will be. We're going into these last 10 races trying to step it up, be more competitive and hopefully get a win or two. We've had some good runs (at Chicagoland), so we're hoping for a big weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon thought he had raced his way into the Chase with 10 laps to go. "My spotter said you've got to get the 14 (Mark Martin)," said Gordon. "I got by. I thought we were okay." Then Clint Bowyer spun with seven laps remaining to bring out the yellow flag and completely change the whole complexion of the race and the battle for the Chase. When the checkered flag fell, Gordon was eighth, but one point short in his bid to make the Chase. "It's disappointing to miss it that close," said Gordon. "We were in and that last caution - you know it's going to be wild and crazy (on the restart). Unfortunately with those two guys up front with old tires we just couldn't get our line to move. Just didn't make up the spots we needed to."

ETC.: Since Gordon was impacted by the decisions by Michael Waltrip Racing that resulted in NASCAR heavily penalizing the organization including docking Martin Truex, Jr., 50 points to knock him out of the Chase, the sanctioning body was asked "what about Gordon?" NASCAR President Mike Helton replied, "The way we go about this is we look at the incident and only the incident because we know from experience if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident you can't cover all those bases." Gordon, naturally, wasn't happy with the ruling. "Take me out of this completely," tweeted Gordon Monday night. "At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely! Feel bad for Truex. But the guy who started all of this (Bowyer) not affected at all??? Don't agree!"

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 29 points out of 13th place. Gained two spots last week.

CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY: Only two top-10 finishes in 10 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "I like going to Chicagoland Speedway. We have had some good qualifying results and decent runs there, we just need to piece together a complete weekend. We are coming off a strong performance Saturday night in Richmond; hopefully we can continue that and try to get a win for our team in one of these last 10 races."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray's only shot at making the Chase for the Championship was to win the race. And he ran up front all night, leading twice for six laps, before finishing fourth for only his second top-five finish of the season. "That was a great night for our team," said McMurray. "Our car was really good early in the race, but we struggled a little in the middle. We had really good pit stops tonight that put us in position for that top-five finish."

ETC.: McMurray is another driver who would love "to be a spoiler" in the Chase for the Championship. "I really feel we are close to getting a win," said McMurray. "Our cars are so much better. We just need a little racing luck. It sure would be nice to get a win during the Chase. That would be really good for the whole EGR."

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 30 points out of 13th place.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Won the 2012 race after finishing fifth in 2011.

LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said he will have no problem staying focused on his job the next 10 weeks even though he will be outside looking in when it comes to deciding the 2013 champion. "They still give trophies for race wins so that is motivation enough for me to go out and continue to give it my all for this team," said Keselowski. "We had a really good test at Chicago a couple of weeks ago, so I feel confident that we can make it happen this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski knew his lone shot at making the Chase for the Championship and defending his Sprint Cup title was by winning the Richmond race. And he led four times for a race-high 142 laps. But he faded in the final 100 laps and finished 17th. While running second, Keselowski had a spirited battle with Kevin Harvick. A few laps after losing the spot to Harvick, Keselowski told his crew "I pushed the car hard early in the run - paying the price for it" as he fell to seventh. And to compound his problems, a caution flag came out three laps after he pitted for four tires as he fell two laps down. "I don't really have any emotions right now," said Keselowski after the race. "We weren't good enough to make it (the Chase) and we didn't. That is the reality. This is just the way our cars have been all year. They haven't been good enough and we haven't executed as well as we needed to. We have work to do."

ETC.: Keselowski loves to spend time on twitter. But following NASCAR's decision on Monday to penalize Michael Waltrip Racing for trying to "manipulate the outcome of the (Richmond) race," Keselowski tweeted "Don't know how to say what I really think about MWR penalty without getting in a lot of trouble. Better stay off twitter for a while."

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 52 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: One top-10 finish in six starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "We've had some good runs the past couple of weeks and hopefully that continues this weekend in Chicago. Over the past couple of years the racing groove (at Chicagoland Speedway) has widened, which allows for more passing opportunities. The backstretch there is slightly curved, but it doesn't affect the car too much."

LOOKING BACK: Menard had a chance to win the race, but the team's decision to change only two right-side tires during the caution flag with six laps to go didn't work out as they had hoped. Menard was the leader on the restart with three laps remaining, but he was unable to hold off Carl Edwards as the green flag came out for the final time. Menard ended up fifth. "We tried strategy in hopes of bringing home a win, but two tires couldn't hold off the guys with four," said Menard. "Still, it was a good night and we had a good car - just not a winning car."

ETC.: Many people along pit road and the ABC/ESPN commentators all thought Edwards jumped the start and should have been penalized. But NASCAR ruled it was a "legal start." Menard felt "the start was okay. I just didn't get as good a start with older left-side tires as Carl did with four new ones".

56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 59 points out of 13th place. Lost five spots last week.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Finished ninth last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: No one will be surprised if Truex struggles this weekend after what he has been through since last Saturday night. When he got out of his car after the Richmond race, he wasn't sure where he stood even after finishing seventh. Then he was told he had made the Chase. Then less than 48 hours later, he was docked 50 points as part of the penalties handed down by NASCAR and was no longer part of the Chase.

LOOKING BACK: Truex was surprised he was able to finish seventh at Richmond. "We were terrible tonight - just terrible, terrible on the long runs," said Truex. "We fought and we fought and we fought just like we did last week (at Atlanta). I don't know how I kept him (Jeff Gordon) behind me - I tried to run where he was running, tried not to make mistakes. We never gave up. I'm happy and shocked (when told he had made the Chase). Such a tough night."

ETC.: Truex had a new cast for the Richmond race after the one he wore at Atlanta "almost melted. This one was a whole lot better," said Truex, who broke his right wrist in a crash at Bristol. "It hurt about half as much as last week. I don't think it will affect us (going forward)."

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 86 points out of 13th place.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Finished 17th a year ago after starting second and leading three laps.

LOOKING AHEAD: Amirola said, "We tested there (Chicagoland) a few weeks ago and had two really good days. Todd (Parrott, crew chief) and the guys really learned a lot, and hopefully, that will pay off when we get to the track this weekend. We were pretty fast there last year, and we should be even better this time back, and hopefully, we can contend for the win."

LOOKING BACK: Almirola was one of a handful of drivers who had just pitted when the yellow flag was waved with only 57 laps to go. As a result, Almirola went from contending for a top-10 finish to two laps down. He ended the night in 20th place. "To say I am disappointed is an understatement," said Almirola. "We had a great car all weekend. The caution during green-flag pit stops really killed us. We outraced most of the guys who finished up front, and that's tough to see when some bad luck gets you stuck a lap down (He got one of his laps back via the wave around)."

ETC.: Almirola is quick to point out that while he is "disappointed that we didn't make the Chase, I think we can play the spoiler role just as much as anyone. We still feel confident that we can get a win before the end of the year. We have put a lot of time into this race (at Chicagoland), so hopefully it will pay off."

42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 94 points out of 13th place.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: One top-10 finish in six starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "To be honest with you, we haven't had very much luck at Chicago. There's a lot of long green-flag runs there and when the handling is off it can be a nightmare. I think my best finish there is 10th. The Target team has come a long way this year and our cars have been fast so I think we'll be good this weekend as long as we get our hands around the handling right away."

LOOKING BACK: It was night filled with penalties for Montoya. As a result, he finished 16th at Richmond despite having a "fast car." Early in the race, Montoya was forced to return to pit road because of a missing lug nut and had to start at the rear of the field. Later he was penalized for speeding on pit road and for not dropping to the tail-end of the field on the restart. "What a crazy night for the Target team," said Montoya. "The car was really good, but we just couldn't catch a break. Everything that could go wrong did for us tonight - missing lug nuts, speeding on pit road and then a pass-thru penalty. We had a top-five car. Pretty disappointing."

ETC.: Montoya met with Furniture Row Racing officials last week as the team begins the process of finding a driver to replace Kurt Busch, who will be leaving at the end of the season to drive for Stewart-Haas. "We're down to a couple of guys," said Joe Garone, the team's general manager. "We have to decide if we want to stay with a veteran or go with a younger rookie and bring a kid up. He (Montoya) has been around a while and obviously can win races." Garone said he expects crew chief Todd Berrier to return in 2014. "We're a pretty solid race team and a tight group of guys," added Garone.

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 106 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Won the Nationwide race in September 2012 after finishing second in the July event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse feels "our strong finish at Richmond gives us momentum going into Chicago. I enjoy racing at the mile-and-a-half tracks so I'm looking forward to this weekend. Last time I raced at Chicago, we picked up the win so hopefully we can get a strong finish in our Best Buy Ford Fusion this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse got a lucky break when he was one of 11 cars that had not pitted when the caution came out on lap 343. This allowed Stenhouse to move into the tenth position for the restart with 49 laps to go. He was able to stay in the top 10 as he finished tenth for his first top-10 finish of his Sprint Cup career. "It feels great," said Stenhouse. "We have been working so hard and have been in situations where it appeared we were going to finish in the top 10 and something would happen. Hopefully this is the first of many in the upcoming races."

ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves said, "We feel we are going to be much stronger the second time around at the tracks coming up. Now that we have finally got our first top-10, we are hoping to add to that number in the coming weeks. We want to finish the season on a high note."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 114 points out of 13th place. Lost a spot last week.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Best finish in 11th in four starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "We have been running a lot better these past few months, and our test went really well at Chicagoland. I think that gives us a great chance to really be up front all weekend. We had a good result at Michigan (sixth) just a few races ago and again at Atlanta (13th), and Chicagoland is a high-speed, momentum track similar to those. Everyone feels confident about this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose struggled with an ill-handling race car all night as he finished 27th at Richmond. "It was a tough night for our DeWalt team," said Ambrose. "The long green-flag runs certainly didn't help us. Then the bump stop broke about halfway through the race and it just made the car a handful. It was just a long, long night."

ETC.: Ambrose feels "it would be very cool to come into this race and spoil the party for the guys in the Chase. Our mile-and-a-half program has improved greatly from the beginning of the season to today. We feel like we can compete each time for a top-10, top-five or a win."

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 122 points out of 13th place.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 12 starts including a second in the 2006 event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "Chicagoland is a fun and challenging race track. While it may look like a normal 1.5-mile layout, it is different in many ways. Both ends of the track are completely opposite as far as handling goes. Chicagoland also requires really good grip and there are some bumps that you have to factor in with the setup."

LOOKING BACK: Burton was running fifth when he pitted on lap 339. But four laps later, the caution flag waved to put an end to Burton's hopes of contending for the win. "That's the story of our season," said Burton, who ended up 18th. "We had a top-five effort taken away from us with back luck in the form of the untimely caution (that put Burton two laps down to leader Kurt Busch, who had not pitted). "I am so proud of the 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team. They are giving me great cars. We just need some racing luck."

ETC.: Even though Burton had a contract to drive the 31 car in 2014, he announced last week that he would be leaving the team at the end of the season. Burton said he had already told car owner Richard Childress that he wanted to cut back on his schedule in 2015. Childress then told Burton that he did not full funding for the 31 team for next year. After much discussion, Burton felt the best thing for RCR was to leave so Childress could bring in a driver with the needed sponsorship. That driver will be Ryan Newman, who was announced as the new driver of the 31 team for 2014 and beyond on Monday. "They are going to have sponsorship in place that can move the ball forward," said Burton. "That's good for RCR. That's not necessarily the best thing for me in the world, but I'll figure it out. I don't know what I'm going to do next year. I'm just going to have a good time the next 11 (now 10) weeks, just go race my ass off and see what happens."

14 MARK MARTIN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: The team stands 14th in the car owner point standings.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: One win and five top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said, "I look forward to Chicagoland because I feel I continue to get comfortable in my environment with the 14 Mobile 1/Bass Pro Shops team and I feel like we're starting to hit a stride where we can start getting some good results. It's starting to feel like home to me. And I like mile-and-a-halves. They're really my favorite race tracks."

LOOKING BACK: Martin finished ninth for his first top-10 finish since being named the interim driver while Tony Stewart recovers from his broken right leg. But Martin needs a well-timed caution flag with 57 laps to go to move into the top 10 as he was one of 11 drivers who had not pitted when the yellow flag waved. And even though he was third for the final restart with three laps to go, Martin struggled with an ill-handling car as he faded to ninth. "We'll take that and build on it," said Martin.

ETC: Martin expects to do some testing for SHR next year as well as work with Danica Patrick to try and speed up the communication lines between her and crew chief Tony Gibson. "Danica doesn't need a driving coach," said Martin. "She already knows how to drive." Martin said he will work as a go-between with Patrick and Gibson. The idea is to help explain to Gibson how Patrick's car is reacting so he can make the proper adjustments.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 265 points out of 13th place.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin said, "Hopefully we can find a little bit of speed in our cars for the last 10 races. And we want to try and help our teammates (Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch) win the Chase. That is our main goal for the rest of the year. If we can find some things that will help my teammates."

LOOKING BACK: An ill-timed caution flag and a "tight" race car resulted in a 21st-place finish for Hamlin at Richmond. Hamlin made his scheduled stop with only 60 laps to go, but a caution flag two laps proved quite costly as the leader Kurt Busch had yet to pit. As a result, Hamlin fell two laps off the pace. He was never able to recover. "It was another tough night for our FedEx team," said Hamlin. "We just never got the balance right in the car after getting back in dirty air, and got unlucky with our pit strategy."

ETC.: Hamlin is in the midst of the worse run of his career. In the last 12 races, he has not finished better than 18th. And most of his finishes during this horrible stretch have been 30th or worse. "I have never had a run like this," said Hamlin. "We have nothing go right for us. We are a much better team than this. We are used to winning races."

55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: The team stands 22nd in the car owner point standings after the 50-point penalty handed down by NASCAR on Monday.

CHICAGOLAND RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in six starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers said he really "likes going to Chicago. That has been a good track for me, both in Cup and Nationwide. We hope to have a good weekend in both cars. It sure would be nice to get another win before the end of the season."

LOOKING BACK: Vickers was involved in the controversy that followed the Richmond race Saturday night. Ty Norris, the team's spotter and MWR general manager, told Vickers to pit as the green flag came back out with only three laps to go. Vickers responded by saying "I don't understand, pit right now." Norris replied, "You've got to pit this time. We need that one point." Vickers then said, "10-4. Do I got a tire going down?" NASCAR felt this conversation was "the most clear part" in making its decision to penalize MWR and all three teams for trying to "manipulate the outcome of the race." Vickers was docked 50 points and crew chief Scott Miller was placed on probation until Dec. 31. Vickers ended the night in 24th place.

ETC.: Vickers, like the rest of MWR, will have a hard time putting this controversy behind him as the team goes about finishing this season and trying to get ready for next year when Vickers will race for the championship. "Our goal remains the same -- to run the best we can each week and try and win races for Aaron's," said Vickers.

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