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Sports Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

Gibbs team flexes muscle early in Chase

September 24th, 2013 5:27 pm by Staff Report

Gibbs team flexes muscle early in Chase

Two weeks into the Chase and Joe Gibbs Racing clearly looks like the organization to beat.
Matt Kenseth, in the No. 20 Toyota, has won the first two races, at Chicagoland and Loudon, with his teammate Kyle Busch the runner-up each time.
It really comes as no surprise as the Toyotas, particularly those driven by Kenseth and Busch, have been the fastest cars for much of this season.
Kenseth scored a series-best seventh win on Sunday and already has two more wins than his previous season-best of five in 2002. The 41-year-old appears to have gotten better with age, with 13 of his 31 career wins coming in the past three years.
His average starting position of 8.9 this season, which includes two poles, is easily the best of his career. In addition, he has led a career-best 1,344 laps this season.
Busch could well be his stiffest competition, the driver I picked to win this year’s championship.
After missing the Chase last year, Busch has come back with four wins so far this season. If Busch is able to match his performance at the end of last season, he will be trouble for the rest of the field.
Busch had six top-five finishes in the final seven races of 2012, although Kansas has traditionally been a trouble spot. He has crashed at each of the past two Kansas races, with finishes of 31st and 38th.
Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have also established themselves as top contenders.
Johnson, a five-time NASCAR champion, returns to Dover this weekend after being frustrated with his last visit to the Monster Mile. Johnson led 143 laps and was in position to win the race when NASCAR black-flagged him for an early restart.
He ended up 17th and cried foul about NASCAR’s ruling. Overall, Johnson has seven Dover wins, which ties him with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for the track record.
More of Johnson’s best tracks are on the horizon, including Kansas, where he has 12 top-10 finishes in 14 races, and Charlotte, where his six wins are the most among active drivers.
Carl Edwards rounds out the top group of drivers after leading the points at the end of NASCAR’s regular season.
He’s off to a decent start to the Chase, with finishes of 11th and ninth. However, Edwards has potential roadblocks coming up. In earlier season visits to the next three tracks in the Chase, Edwards failed to score a top-10 finish in any of them.
However, he remains within striking distance of Kenseth.
The same can’t be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, who are already in danger of being eliminated from Chase contention. They occupy the 11th through 13th spots in the Chase.
Another finish outside the top 30 for any of them will crush any realistic chance at a championship. In fact, no driver has ever come back any farther than eighth-place after two Chase races to win a series title. That was Jimmie Johnson’s first championship in 2006. In seven of the nine Chase seasons, the eventual champion has ranked third or better after two races.
An interesting statistic for this week at Dover, not one of the previous 87 races at the Monster Mile has been shortened due to weather.
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This weekend is one of the biggest racing weekends of the year for Bristol Dragway, with the Super Chevy Show from Friday through Sunday, and Thunder Valley Mayhem on Saturday night.
In addition to a large car show, there will be bracket racing with the Super Chevy Show. The Thunder Valley Mayhem portion of the weekend features the Team FXM motorcycles thrill show, Pro Mods and Jet Cars racing and the car-eating robot Megasaurus.
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Victory Sports announced Monday a $10,000 purse for the 26th annual Suzuki Top Gun Showdown at Muddy Creek Raceway to be held Oct. 18-20.
Sunday’s final for the AMA Pro-Am event features a $1,000 bonus for the overall winner of the 450 Pro Class.
First up for the local motocross crowd is another round of the Hot Summer Nights Series this weekend at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.
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Nine-year-old Carter Davison of Jonesborough has been signed by former NASCAR Nationwide Series driver and current FoxSports1 television analyst Hermie Sadler to race for his karting team in 2014.
Davison is already a three-time Tennessee State Champion and has compiled over 25 feature wins over the past two seasons. Davison is easily the youngest of the three drivers announced to join Sadler’s team as the others are 22-year-old Justin McDonald and 19-year-old Austin Wyatt.

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