There was no Wicked Witch of the West making her presence felt this weekend, nor was there a Cowardly Lion or a Tin Man with no heart.
However, there was a twister in the area. NASCAR set sail to land in the Great Plains as they traveled to the Kansas Speedway for the third race in the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft.
Richard Petty Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard brought the field to green under perfectly blue skies, and it was Kahne getting the big jump off the line. He would stretch his lead out over the first 10 laps to over a second and a half over second-place Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, the No. 24 started getting a bit better and ran down the lead on lap 28.
The first caution came on lap 43 when Juan Pablo Montoya slid up the track in turn 3 and caught the outside wall. It gave teams a chance to make some adjustments. Not surprisingly, most teams elected for new tires all the way around, but it was Gordon’s team getting the job done as he returned to the front of the field on the restart.
It would not take long for the race to go under yellow again as on lap 53, Kyle Busch got into the back of David Reutimann while trying to get a run on him through the second corner. He admitted on the radio he didn’t intend to do it, but Reutimann felt differently.
No cars at the front of the field decided to pit, and Gordon once again brought the field to green on lap 56.
After five laps, Matt Kenseth decided it would be his time to take the lead and would make the pass on the front straightaway. Kenseth kept his spot out front until Tony Stewart drove his No. 14 Chevrolet to the lead on lap 81. Stewart would keep that spot as the first round of green flag stops began.
The lead would swap between Stewart, Kenseth, Gordon and even Patrick Carpentier until Stewart reclaimed the top spot on lap 108.
The race would go through another round of green flag stops would come in after another 40 laps, but Stewart would not give up the lead after the cycle was complete. Just a short time after that, the race’s third caution came out, and it was a case of having flashbacks for everyone involved.
Coming out of turn 2, Reutimann found himself going underneath Busch, and suddenly saw himself go up into his rear corner and put him into the outside wall. Reutimann himself went spinning, but Busch started complaining of the rear end being messed up, and he was not kidding. It turned out the track bar was bent, and he knew it.
Busch was certainly not happy on the radio, but the team now had to make the best of a bad situation.
Meanwhile, a new face would be out front as now Kevin Harvick would take over the top spot after a round of pit stops that saw some teams go with two tires or no tires. Harvick’s team made the call to leave him on the track, which did prove beneficial as he would bring the field to green on lap 159.
The race went back under caution on lap 166 after Kahne spun out in turn 4, but then blew his left-front tire as he was trying to recover. Rubber and metal covered the track as he would nurse the car to the garage.
No cars would pit on this caution, meaning the No. 29 would once again lead the field to green. Harvick kept his top spot until lap 171 when Stewart once again took the top spot. He would keep his lead until former Kansas winner, Greg Biffle, made the challenge on lap 188 to get the lead. At that point, the race’s final caution flag waved as Kevin Conway’s engine let go, spilling fluid all over the racing surface.
The field came to pit road for their next-to-last stop, but a couple teams decided to gamble on track position and it was Jamie McMurray then taking the lead.
Unfortunately, that lead didn’t last as on the lap 196 restart, Menard made the move to the front as he also used a two-tire stop to gain track position. Menard went on to lead the next 10 laps until Biffle made his charge to the front for the second time on lap 207. At that point, it seemed evident that most of the racing would be for the second spot as Biffle began running away from the field. At the same time, the car on the move was Jimmie Johnson as he would make it into the top-five and looked to challenge for the points lead as Denny Hamlin was having an off-day.
Biffle made his final pit stop on lap 237 with many of the leaders, handing the lead to teammate Carl Edwards. After two laps, Biffle found his way back at the front of the field, and at that moment the race was pretty much over.
Following pit stops, Biffle’s lead was just under four seconds. Then, it was over four seconds, then over five, and then six. Biffle would pull out to over a seven-second advantage and hit the cruise control over the final 28 laps and went on to take his second checkered flag of the year, winning the Price Chopper 400.
This time, unlike his victory at Pocono, team owner Jack Roush was in attendance and got to celebrate with his team. Meanwhile, Johnson pulled off a runner-up performance. Combined with Hamlin’s 12th-place finish, Johnson took over the points lead. In fact, the Chase standings are closer than ever as the top nine are only separated by 101 points.
It’s a wide open championship hunt, and it’s appropriate that the next track promotes wide open racing. Next on the schedule, the Auto Club Speedway and the Pepsi Max 400. Wide open, high speeds, and multiple grooves await the Sprint Cup Series and it could prove to be a critical race on the schedule.
Coverage begins next Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with NASCAR Countdown. The race goes green shortly after 3 p.m. All television coverage will be on ESPN.
RESULTS: 1-Biffle 2-Johnson 3-Harvick 4-Stewart 5-Gordon 6-Edwards 7-Kenseth 8-Menard 9-Newman 10-Allmendinger
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Hamlin 13-Kurt Busch 15-Bowyer 18-Burton 21-Kyle Busch 22-Earnhardt Jr. 37-Kahne
CAUTIONS: 5 for 24 laps. Lap 43-46 (No. 42 accident-T3), 53-55 (No. 00, 18 accident-T2), 156-159 (No. 00, 18 accident-BS), 166-170 (No. 9 accident-T4), 188-195 (Fluid on the track)
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 12 drivers. Kahne 1-27, Gordon 28-43, McDowell 44, Gordon 45-55, Kenseth 56-80, Stewart 81-94, Kenseth 95, Gordon 96-97, Carpentier 98-107, Stewart 108-145, Harvick 146, Burton 147-148, Stewart 149-155, Harvick 156-170, Stewart 171-187, Biffle 188, McMurray 189-195, Menard 196-206, Biffle 207-236, Edwards 237-238, Biffle 239-267.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 54 Mins, 28 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 138.077 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 7.638 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1-Johnson, 5503 points; 2-Hamlin, -8; 3-Harvick, -30; 4-Edwards, -53; 5-Gordon, -58; 6-Kurt Busch, -70; 7-Kyle Busch, -80; 8-Biffle, -85; 9-Burton, -101; 10-Stewart, -127; 11-Kenseth, -149; 12-Bowyer, -252.