Tough Night for Chase Hopefuls

Bristol

Many drivers trying to make the Chase struggled at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway didn’t exactly go as planned for a number of drivers trying to make the Chase.

With only two races left in the regular season to qualify for this year’s playoff run, last Saturday’s performance in “Thunder Valley” might play a vital role in determining who will make the 2011 Chase.

Although he still clings to the 10th and final transfer spot in the point standings, Tony Stewart had a miserable night at Bristol. The two-time series champion was down a lap in the early going and wound up 28th and three laps behind race winner Brad Keselowski.

Stewart was at a loss for why he struggled so much all weekend long.

“It was better than it was shaping up to be, yesterday,” said Stewart who qualified poorly and watched his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman win the pole. “Thanks to our teammates for the help that we got from them. That definitely made us better, for sure. It was just a rough night, but we struggled through it.”

Clint Bowyer finds himself in the 12th spot of the standings and trails Stewart by 22 markers. He didn’t do himself any favors by also turning in a poor performance on Saturday night after finishing 26th and two laps off the pace.

Bowyer’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard had an equally disappointing night that included getting caught up in a tangle with Denny Hamlin. He finished 30th and has fallen all the way to 20th in the standings after his Brickyard 400 win last month.

“Man, we’re giving it away right now for sure,” said a frustrated Menard after the race. “I sped on pit road; my fault. Lost all of our track position, which, here is so important. Just fought loose off all night. When you get back in traffic, you burn your tires off a little bit too much and it is hard to get in a rhythm when you are fighting guys. Just a bad night. Frustrating. If there is something that could have gone wrong, it did.”

Even those securely in the Chase picture struggled at Bristol including Kurt Busch, who while his teammate Keselowski was winning had to endure a night that included a poor handling racecar as well as a pair of pit road speeding violations.

“It was just a difficult night for us all the way around,” said Busch who finished 17th and has fallen to eighth in the standings. “We were playing catch-up all race due to the two pit-road penalties. We finally made it up to 10th in the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge with less than 100 to go, but had our worst pit stop of the night under the last caution and lost six spots back to 16th. We went with an adjustment (wedge) that made it just too tight to advance. It wasn’t the night we expect to have at Bristol.”

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