The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 27, 2006

Burton leads in NASCAR's Chase points for 1st time since 1999


By Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer



The 10 drivers competing in NASCAR’s Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, in order of points:



DRIVER: Jeff Burton

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

CAR: No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: First, 5,351

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 4

WHAT HAPPENED: Burton ended a 175-race winless drought — a streak dating back to 2001 — by passing Matt Kenseth for the lead with six laps to go at Dover. It put him on top of the points for the first time since 1999. He now heads to Kansas, where his best finish was 11th in 2001.

SPEAKING: “I do care what my peers think of me and it’s great to have so many people be happy for you when you win, especially when you are competing against them. It was a hard-fought battle with Matt Kenseth, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He congratulated me, along with a bunch of others, and that felt really good,” Burton said.

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DRIVER: Jeff Gordon

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Second, -6

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 2

WHAT HAPPENED: Gordon won the pole in Dover, but failed to lead a lap during his third-place run. Had he led even one circuit, the four-time series champion would be leading the standings. Still, he’s gained seven spots since the Chase began, and credits much of his success to first-year crew chief Steve Letarte.

SPEAKING: “I’ve got a rookie crew chief that is acting like a veteran. He’s doing a great job back at the shop making sure we bring good cars to the track, and he’s making great calls during the races. He’s got a great attitude and he’s sharp,” Gordon said.

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DRIVER: Denny Hamlin

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

CAR: No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Third, -18 (Tied)

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Hamlin wasn’t feeling well all day in Dover, and lost strength in his neck. Still, he squeaked out a ninth-place finish. He returns to Kansas, site of his Nextel Cup debut last season. He was 31st.

SPEAKING: “To leave Dover third in the points is right in line with where we want to be. I really believe this Chase will be tight until the last race and that leaves little room for error. Dover was a wild card for us, so to get past it with a top 10 is really good,” Hamlin said.

———

DRIVER: Matt Kenseth

TEAM: Roush Racing

CAR: No. 17 DeWalt Tools Ford

CHASE POINTS: Third, -18 (Tied)

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Kenseth should have won Dover, but was passed for the lead with six to go by Burton. Then he ran out of gas two laps from the end and limped home to a 10th-place finish. Although he was fifth in Kansas last year, he’s not overly confident about this weekend.

SPEAKING: “Kansas has been a little bit of a hiccup for us in the past. We’ve had some pretty good cars there before, but we’ve struggled at times, too. Last season was obviously our best run at Kansas,” Kenseth said.

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DRIVER: Kevin Harvick

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

CAR: No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Fifth, -54

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 4

WHAT HAPPENED: Harvick had a rare engine failure on his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet that sent him to the garage midway through the race. He wound up 32nd and dropped five spots in the standings.

SPEAKING: “It’s the first engine we’ve lost in a long time. We’ll be fine,” Harvick said.

———

DRIVER: Mark Martin

TEAM: Roush Racing

CAR: No. 6 AAA Ford

CHASE POINTS: Sixth, -75

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Martin pitted under green, then fell victim moments later when a caution came out and he was caught a lap down. He never made it up and wound up 14th. But he’s looking forward to Kansas, where he dominated last season en route to the win.

SPEAKING: “We are excited about going back to Kansas. It’s cut out of the mold of the 1.5-mile tracks that have really been our bread and butter over the years,” Martin said.

———

DRIVER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

TEAM: Dale Earnhardt Inc.

CAR: No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Seventh, -102

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Earnhardt had an early flat tire, and was caught a lap down after pitting under green. After failing to make any Chase progress the past two weeks, he’s starting to feel a bit deflated.

SPEAKING: “It has been a really frustrating Chase for us. We’ve let some solid top-five, top-10 runs slip away. But I’m confident going into this weekend because we’ve improved a ton on these big flat tracks like Chicago, Michigan and California. The chassis we’re taking has four straight top-six finishes, so we’d like that streak to continue,” Earnhardt said.

———

DRIVER: Jimmie Johnson

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Eighth, -136

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Johnson had poor pit strategy that had him fighting for position all day. He wound up 13th.

SPEAKING: “We have eight races remaining and we go to Kansas this weekend. In our four races there we have only qualified outside the top four once and finished outside the top 10 just once. Our goal this weekend is to win practice, win the pole, and win the race,” Johnson said.

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DRIVER: Kasey Kahne

TEAM: Evernham Motorsports

CAR: No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge

CHASE POINTS: Ninth, -176

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Kahne was wrecked early when Tony Stewart spun out in front him, damaging his Dodge and sending him to the garage for heavy repairs. He’s not looking forward to Kansas, where he’s failed to finish in the top 10 in two previous starts.

SPEAKING: “We’ve had disappointing finishes in the first two races in the Chase. The accident last week was a devastating blow to our title hopes. Those things happen. We’re disappointed, but there are eight races left. Maybe we’ll dominate the last eight races, who knows?” Kahne said.

———

DRIVER: Kyle Busch

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: 10th, -224

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Busch was victim to a rare engine failure for Hendrick Motorsports and wound up finishing 40th. He’s pretty much written off any chance of winning the title.

SPEAKING: “I can sit here and say we’re done, but I guess you never know until it’s over. We won’t know until Homestead, but right now we have a big hole to dig out of,” Busch said.