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Saturday, October 11, 2008

No tires, no problem … Burton wins, boosts title hopes; Edwards likely out of picture

Associated Press photo
Jeff Burton takes the checkered flag Saturday in Charlotte.

Every race counts in the Chase, and no one knows that better than Jimmie Johnson.

Every year when the playoffs start, the man appears to be made of stone, and nothing can budge him from his weekly top-5 and top-10 runs. When wrecks happen in front of him, he always manages to dodge them. And mechanical failures never seem to happen to the #48 team when solid finishes matter most. Most importantly, his car is always strong and running up front.

The same can’t be said for Carl Edwards, who had ignition problems early in Saturday’s race at Charlotte and is now 168 points behind Johnson and likely out of contention for the title. In order to win the title, Edwards would have to outscore Johnson by an average of 34 points per race over the last five races, which include some of Johnson’s best tracks. Good luck with that Carl, you’re going to need it.

It’s really a shame, as I would have loved to see a great knock-down-drag-out battle between Edwards and Johnson down to the wire at Homestead. But unless Johnson has a bad race or two in the next few weeks, Edwards likely has no shot at the title.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jeff Burton, who has rocketed his way into title contention after taking the win Saturday night at Charlotte. Known as Mr. Consistent for his regular top-10 finishes, Burton recognized going into Saturday’s race that he had to win some races down the stretch if he wanted to have a legitimate shot at the title.

He did just that at Charlotte, strategically making his way to the front with a gutsy call by his team to take fuel only on its final pit stop while everyone else took at least two tires. Normally that’s not a call that‘s going to help you, but it worked this time as he was able to hold off everyone, including a hard-charging Kasey Kahne, for about 40 laps and take the checkered flag for the second time this year.

Burton has flown under the radar for much of the year … and this would be the perfect time for him to step up his game. If he can manage to pull off another win or two in the final five races, he may be able to battle the hard-to-beat Johnson for that title trophy.

And then there were three …
Burton (-69) and Greg Biffle (-86) are the only legitimate title contenders at this point, besides points leader Johnson. Edwards (-169) and Clint Bowyer (-185) are hanging around, but that’s just too much to make up in five races.

Everyone else is at least 200 points back, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has had a horrific chase and is 354 points back.

Win No. 20 for Kyle
Don’t let his terrible Chase start fool you … Kyle Busch is still a great driver, and if you didn’t believe it he just pulled off his 20th win of the season in the top three series on Friday night in Charlotte.

For those of you keeping score, that’s nine Nationwide wins, eight Cup wins and three Truck wins.

Not too shabby.

This level of success across the series is unprecedented and is unlikely to be repeated by anyone anytime soon, even Kyle himself. Despite his blown shot at the Cup title, Kyle Busch has no reason to hang his head when looking back at 2008. His great run this year will always be remembered in the annals of NASCAR history.


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