Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 was the start of the Contender Round for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But as much of a story as it was with Joey Logano taking the checkered flag, Logano’s win was overshadowed by half of the 12 Chase contenders suffered significant problems that could greatly impact their ability to advance to the next round two weeks from now.
Chase contenders Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all suffered issues – most tire-related – that impacted their hopes to start Round 2 of the Chase on a good note.
Speaking of the tire issues:
“We saw what we think were a couple of right fronts that obviously went down,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of racing, told ESPN. “We’re trying to figure out what the issue is.
“Obviously in a race like this in the Chase, everybody’s on top of the wheel and pushing the envelope. We started the race with a full green run and the tires really looked beautiful up and down pit road.
“We’ll have to sit down with the teams and try to make sure we understand if they made the adjustments or what were different about those particular runs vs. what we’ve seen before those incidents happened.”
Kurt Busch, who was eliminated from the Chase after last week’s race at Dover, also suffered tire failure and a resulting wreck.
Gordon, who had contact with Jamie McMurray about halfway through the race, finished 14th in the race and leaves Kansas essentially on the elimination bubble, tied with Matt Kenseth for seventh place, both drivers 17 points behind race winner and points leader Logano.
“It was a handful, that’s for sure,” Gordon told ESPN. “(McMurray) got loose and got into our left rear. He was just way over his head. I know he had a good car, he’s been running good, but got loose and got me into the wall. We had a little damage and lost all the track position, which is so hard to get at this place.
“…We just fell back and struggled. Today was a real survival day. I felt we could have finished better today. We had a real good race car.”
Here’s how things played out:
Kurt Busch blew a tire on Lap 78 that pushed him into the wall, sustaining moderate damage to the right side of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. He immediately took his ride to the garage for repairs.
Then on Lap 123, Dale Earnhardt Jr. also suffered tire failure, hitting the wall and causing significant damage to his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
The incident couldn’t have come at a worst time: Earnhardt was leading the race when the tire let go.
“The whole surface of the tire just unwound like a string,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “It just came off the car and it popped off the corner.”
Busch and Earnhardt weren’t the only Chase drivers to have problems.
On Lap 159, Brad Keselowski suffered an almost identical issue as the elder Busch brother and Junior. His right front tire blew and sent Keselowski’s Team Penske Ford into the wall.
Six-time and defending champ Jimmie Johnson was next to experience difficulty – not due to tires, but being taken out by another driver.
Johnson was in the middle of a big pack on Lap 85 when it appeared that he was tagged from behind by Greg Biffle, causing a four-car wreck that not only wrecked Johnson, it also collected the cars of Justin Allgaier and Josh Wise.
“I’m fine, obviously a big hit in the championship points,” Johnson told ESPN. “That’ll put a premium on next week and the week after. We have to be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega. There’s still a lot of racing left.”
Johnson, who also told ESPN that he hoped his team could make repairs to get his car back on track sometime later in the race, had started 32nd but had moved up significantly in the pack when the wreck occurred.
Biffle suffered minor damage and was able to continue on.
Interestingly, less than 20 laps prior to the wreck with Johnson, Biffle had other issues, getting sideways with a gaggle of other cars around him.
In one of the best driving moves of the season, Biffle made an outstanding save, moving down the track, while others dodged around him.
A couple of laps before the Johnson-Biffle tangle, Jamie McMurray got into the left rear of Jeff Gordon, sending the latter into and skimming the outside retaining wall.
While both drivers fell back several spots, it appeared Gordon’s damage was not that bad.
Late in the race, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Biffle also had issues. Harvick thought he had a tire going down, but that proved not to be the case.
Kenseth, however, did have a tire issue but was able to get to pit road before he could have had a blowout.
Biffle, meanwhile, lost a tire and skimmed the wall, but damage was minimal.
With just over 20 laps to go, Kasey Kahne hit the wall, although it’s not clear if it was because of a tire going down or if he simply got loose.
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