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NASCAR Driver Capsules, Sept. 18

The SportsXchange

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After moving from sixth to first place once the points were reset after Richmond and prior to the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Matt Kenseth remained in first place after winning the 10-race Chase opener Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. He leads teammate Kyle Busch by eight points and former points leader Jimmie Johnson by 11 points.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 27 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2004. Finished 14th in this race last year and was ninth in this year's summer race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth got off to a great start to the Chase, winning the first of the 10-race playoffs in convincing fashion Sunday at Chicagoland. Now, Kenseth, who has a series-leading six wins, looks to continue that momentum and build an even larger lead at New Hampshire this Sunday. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think it's too early to really pick favorites. I think there's a ton of competition. When you look at the finishing position last Sunday, 10 of the top 12 were all drivers in the Chase. You're going to have to run really good every week to be able to beat that because they're in the Chase for a reason: because they've been the best-running cars all year. You're going to try to figure out how to beat all of them and they're all going to be really tough."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led when Sunday's race was stopped for a five-plus hour rain delay, then picked up where he left off, going on to win the Chase opener. The previous two winners of the Chase opener at Chicagoland went on to win the championship that season (Tony Stewart in 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012). Could Kenseth make it three in a row?

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 99.0 percent (7,873) of the 7,950 total laps contested in 27 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 20.0, while his average finish is a considerably better 13.8. He has one DNF there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After being seeded in a tie for second place with Jimmie Johnson heading into the Chase, Kyle Busch is now in second place all by himself. Busch trails points leader Matt Kenseth by eight points and is three points ahead of third-place Jimmie Johnson.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 17 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2006. Finished 28th in this race last year and was runner-up in this year's early summer race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is locked and loaded for a win, especially after coming so close not only in the early summer race at New Hampshire, but also finishing runner-up to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Here's Busch's thoughts on this Sunday's race: "There's no doubt it's great (to be so high in the rankings). Certainly you'd rather win one. I felt like we had a great chance of that at Chicago and Matt (Kenseth) got a little bit of a better push on the restart, and it was going to be hard to get back around him. There's still nine more weeks - nine long weeks to go. But I know this team is focused and we'll try to have another good race at New Hampshire and keep up some positive momentum from last week."

LOOKING BACK: Busch tried mightily but just could not catch teammate Matt Kenseth in the closing laps at Chicagoland, ultimately finishing second.

ETC.: Busch has completed 97.7 percent (4,954) of the 5,070 total laps contested in 17 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 11.6, while his average finish is 15.8. He has zero DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet?

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After holding first place for 20 straight weeks, Jimmie Johnson fell to a tie for second place in the standings with Kyle Busch after the points were reset for the Chase. And after Sunday's first Chase race in Chicago, Johnson dropped to third. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 11 points and is three points behind second-ranked Kyle Busch and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by four points.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 23 career starts, 3 wins, 8 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in early and late summer 2003 and early summer 2010. Finished second in this race last year and was sixth in this year's early summer race.

LOOKING AHEAD: With the number of wins he's had at New Hampshire, along with his outstanding overall success, Johnson comes into this Sunday's race as one of the top candidates to win. Here's his thoughts: "We had a great race car there earlier this year and we've tested there so I'm optimistic going back. The way the race unfolds it's definitely a different game when you get into the top 10. Restarts were important and the lane you were in made a difference on how you could pass."

LOOKING BACK: After four straight poor performances - 40th (Michigan), 36th (Bristol) 28th (Atlanta) and 40th (Richmond) - Johnson finally broke through to finish fifth in the Chase opener at Chicagoland.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.0 percent (6,709) of the 6,777 total laps contested in 23 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start there is 12.5 and his average finish is an outstanding 9.4. He has zero DNFs there.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After 10 weeks in fourth place, by an ironic twist, Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place after the points were reset after Richmond and again after the Chase opener this past Sunday at Chicagoland. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 15 points, is four points behind third-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads the fifth-ranked tie of Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch by eight points.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in late summer 2006. Was 11th in this race last year and seventh in this year's early summer race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick got off to a great start in Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland. Now he has to keep that momentum up heading to New Hampshire. He is bound and determined to win the championship this season, especially since it's his final year with Richard Childress Racing. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "The hardest thing is just making your car turn in the middle of the corner and being able to have enough forward drive up off. It always seems like the New Hampshire race comes down to a track position strategy call on two tires or four tires toward the end of the race. Track position will play a big part, but getting your car to handle right will probably play an equal part."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick had a great Chase opener at Chicagoland, finishing third, the highest-ranked Chevrolet driver to kick off the 10-race playoffs.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.3 percent (7,323) of the 7,377 total laps contested in 25 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 14.2 and average finish is 13.4. He has zero DNFs there.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in fifth place after the Chase opener at Chicagoland, but is also now tied with Kurt Busch, both drivers 23 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth. The duo is also eight points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and one point ahead of seventh-ranked Jeff Gordon.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in early summer 2006. Was 19th in this race last year and eighth in this year's early summer race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards needs to come out of New Hampshire with a top-five finish, lest he start falling too far behind as the Chase continues to intensify. Tied for fifth is good, but at 23 points back, he's essentially a half-race behind former teammate Matt Kenseth points-wise.

LOOKING BACK: Edwards hoped to start off the Chase with a top-five finish, but he had to settle for an eleventh place showing. "There are a couple of things I wish I could take back," Edwards said of this past Sunday's race at Chicagoland. "I tried the high side one time and about five or six guys freight-trained me on the bottom. The last restart we all just kind of fought for the bottom and I had to check up or I was going to wreck Greg (Biffle). That got us. Other than that, the strategy I think was very good to have good tires at the end. Our car was as fast as anyone at the end. We needed things to fall a little better and I needed to make better decisions."

ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.9 percent (5,367) of 5,370 total laps contested in 18 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 14.7 and average finish is 14.1. He has zero DNFs there.

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Of all the 13 Chase drivers, Kurt Busch climbed the most spots in the standings after the opening race at Chicagoland, going from a six-way tie for eighth to a tie for fifth with Carl Edwards. Both drivers are 23 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth, are eight points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and one point ahead of seventh-ranked Jeff Gordon.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 25 career starts, 3 wins, 7 top-fives, 11 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in early and late summer 2004 and early summer 2008. Finished 25th in this race last year and was 31st in this year's early summer race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch has struggled in his last four starts at New Hampshire, finishing 22nd, 24th, 25th and 31st. If he is to advance in the Chase, he needs a big finish Sunday at New Hampshire. Here's his thoughts: "We had some races this season that we let slip away. The first one that comes to mind is the July New Hampshire race. We qualified second, led the most laps (102) and it appeared we were going to have a strong showing and a real good shot at winning the race. But we got tangled with some other cars (Lap 226 of 302) and the incident sent our Furniture Row Chevrolet to the garage for repairs. Instead of the possibility of winning the race we ended up somewhere in the 30s (31st). But the good news is that we have good notes about how to set up our car for this weekend's race. We have momentum heading into New Hampshire with top-fives in the last three races. You need to have top fives to compete in the Chase. We got off to a good start in Chicago (4th) -- it's one down and nine to go."

LOOKING BACK: Busch had an outstanding start to the Chase, finishing fourth.

ETC.: Busch has completed 95.3 percent (7,033) of the 7,377 total laps contested in 25 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is 12.6, while his average finish is 15.4. He has one DNF there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After starting the Chase in a six-way tie for eighth heading into the Chase, Jeff Gordon climbed one spot in the standings following the Chase opener at Chicagoland. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 24 points, is one point behind the fifth-place tie between Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch and leads the eighth-place duo of Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman by four points.

NEW HAMPSHIRE RECORD: 37 career starts, 3 wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s and 4 poles. Best career finish: First in 1995, late summer 1997 and late summer 1998. Finished third in this race last year (after winning the pole), and was 10th in this year's early summer race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Winning a race has likely never been more important this season for Gordon than heading into Sunday's race at New Hampshire. With his past record at the one-mile flat track, and the fact he has yet to win a race this season, Gordon is almost in a must-win situation if he hopes to continue to elevate his chances in the Chase. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "(New Hampshire) is always a track that I look forward to coming to, and it's one we've had success at over the years. I love this track - it's just one where I have a really good feel of what I need to get the car through the corners fast and be able to make good passes and have good speed. There are a few tracks on the circuit - probably a handful of them - that I have that kind of confidence at and this is one of them. This team has a lot of fight in them and we never give up. We've started to run better - I think Chicago was one of our best races so far this year - and we have started to finish better. We just need to keep building on that. When you have cars that drive like the one I had at Chicago, it's so much fun. I can't wait for this weekend's race."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon made the most of his unprecedented addition to the Chase two days before this past Sunday's race at Chicagoland, leading 22 laps before finishing sixth.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 98.2 percent (10,758) of the 10,950 total laps contested in 37 career starts at New Hampshire. His average start is an outstanding 9.8 and average finish is an equally strong 10.5. He has two DNFs there.

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 28 points out of first place. Gained four spots last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Three wins and 15 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. Finished 10th in two of the last three races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman calls New Hampshire Motor Speedway "a fun race track. You really have to drive it into the corner and focus on rolling through the corner. It's one of the most symmetrical tracks we go to in that turns one and two are very similar to turns three and four. It's really important to focus on the exit to the corners. I got my first Sprint Cup win at New Hampshire, so it has always been a special track for me."

LOOKING BACK: Newman finished 10th in the rain-delayed Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. "I'm happy to come out of here with a top-10 finish," said Newman. "Track position was really important. We were stuck in the back of the pack for a while and couldn't really get going. Every time I got up behind someone, I'd just get so tight I couldn't do anything with it. Matt (Borland, crew chief) got us position with a couple of two-tire stops, and once we were up front, we were able to make a little more out of it. Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was definitely better on the long runs."

ETC.: Newman feels the track position is the toughest thing to overcome at NHMS. "If you get behind, it is hard to make it up," said Newman. "Because track position is so important, hopefully we'll be able to continue our record of solid qualifying efforts at New Hampshire this weekend."

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 28 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Two wins and six top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 15 starts. Has finished in the top four in two of the last three races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer can't wait to get to Loudon. "If there is a track on the schedule that I feel we could make up some ground in the Chase - New Hampshire is that track," said Bowyer. "I've won at New Hampshire twice and I love everything about it. The flat short tracks seem to fit my driving style the best and I have had a lot of success there - so we are pretty confident going in. We could use a big week to get back on the right track."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer passed Ryan Newman with two laps to go to finish ninth at Chicagoland Speedway. "Man, that was a long, long day and night," said Bowyer. "I'm glad we got to stick around and put on a show for the fans and everyone who stayed up late. The Peak Antifreeze Toyota was pretty good tonight but we struggled on restarts. In the second half of the race there were a lot of restarts. But ninth place isn't too bad. We need single-digit finishes for 10 weeks so tonight was a good start."

ETC.: Earlier this month Bowyer visited Swenson Granite Works in Concord, NH, where he used a crane to lift a 7,000-pound slab of granite. "They had the piece engraved with the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota on it," said Bowyer. "I thought it was so awesome that I just had to have it for our community building (in his hometown of Emporia, Kan.). I'll have some friends pick it up for me after the race this weekend. It's going to take a really big truck," adds a smiling Bowyer.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 31 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Kahne won the July 15, 2012 race and finished fifth in last year's Chase race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne believes he can get back into the thick of the championship battle this weekend at Loudon. "That has been a really good track for us," said Kahne. "We ran really good there in both races last year, and we were pretty good in July. So we have high hopes for this weekend. We just need to not have any of those problems like we had at Chicago."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne's hopes of challenging for win ended on pit road when several cars slowed dramatically in front of him as he left his pit stall. Kahne couldn't get stopped in time and ran into the back of teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., resulting in several more pit stops to fix the damage to the front end. As a result, he was forced to play catch-up for the rest of the race as he finished 12th. "It was actually a pretty good finish for what we had," said Kahne. "There were like three or four guys clueless on pit road. They couldn't find their (pit) stalls - like we've never done this before. Hurt our car pretty bad and from there we just battled. I had a fast car prior to that."

ETC.: Kahne believes the reason he and crew chief Kenny Francis "get along so well is because we have similar personalities. Neither one of us like to talk a lot if we don't need to. We just talk when we feel we need to, and we're usually on the same page. He's non-stop trying to figure out how to make our race car faster, and I try to do everything I can to know about the car and also be physically and mentally prepared as I can. So I think we see what each other does and really like it, and the communication is there, which is a big part of what we do. Being able to communicate with him, understand and be on the same page more often than not has been key for us."

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 31 points out of first place. Lost four spots last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: One win and eight top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 22 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said he is "looking forward to Loudon. I won there a few years ago and we had a strong run in Richmond (earlier this month) so I'm really ready for this weekend. We've got a brand new 3M Ford for this weekend, and I'm looking to get a solid finish." Crew chief Matt Puccia quickly adds, "We had a good test there earlier this year and we took what we learned and ran well at Richmond with it and will apply it to Loudon this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle battled engine problems the "the last 100 laps" as he finished 16th in the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. "We were down quite a bit of power the last 100 laps," said Biffle. "We just tried to keep our momentum up. The restarts just killed us. I just didn't have the power on the restarts. Once it stretched out a little we were pretty good and could keep up. That isn't the way we wanted to start (the Chase) but we had a pretty fast car at times. That was a rough night."

ETC.: When asked which tracks in the Chase he can't wait to get to and which ones is he the most worried about, Biffle replied, "the most comfortable are the mile-and-a-half tracks like Texas, Charlotte, where we run good. The ones I am nervous about are Martinsville, we got three or four top-10's in a row there but historically that hasn't been a good track for us. Then of course Talladega."

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 52 points out of first place. Lost six spots last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Finished eighth in the Chase race a year ago for his fourth top-10 finish in 10 starts. Won his first Cup race at NHMS in a rain-shortened event in June 2009.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "We are looking to rebound at New Hampshire. I thought we had a pretty good race car there in July, but we never got a chance to show it as we had a tire issue on the third lap and hit the wall. We never got a chance to show what we could do. So we are going to try and scratch that from our memory banks and just go out there and do what we need to do."

LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole and leading the first 32 laps, Logano had visions of winning the first race in the 2013 Chase for the Championship. But those dreams went up in smoke on lap 175 of the 267-lap event when he suffered engine failure. "I am pretty angry," said Logano. "That was such a fast car we had. It is a bummer to have it (engine problems) in the Chase when you are running for a championship."

ETC.: Logano refuses to believe "we are out of it (a shot at the Sprint Cup title). We have a shot at it. The problem is it is only 10 races, but this team has shown how good we are. It (the engine failure at Chicagoland) is a tough break for this team. We are strong. We have battled through a lot of adversity this year and we will keep doing it. We just need to keep our heads in the game and that's what we are going to do."

88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 53 points out of first place. Lost four spots last week.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: 11 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 28 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt said, "We tested at New Hampshire last month because we weren't as good as we thought we needed to be earlier this year. We picked up a few things at the test that will help us. We believe we will be a lot better this time around, so we are hoping for a good finish. We know New Hampshire is an important race for us if we are to have any shot (at winning the title)."

LOOKING BACK: It was a long day and night for Earnhardt. First, he got caught up in a wreck on pit road that severely damaged his race car and then he suffered engine failure with 42 laps to go. As a result, he finished 35th to all but knock him out of championship contention. "We had a car we were pretty happy with and just thought we were going to have a pretty good night," said Earnhardt. "I don't know what was going on on pit road there but we knocked the front end off of it on pit road. Those guys all stopped in front of us. We were trying to get that fixed and get a decent finish, but something broke in the motor."

ETC.: Earnhardt knows "it's going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind. We have some pretty tough competition in the Chase. The average finish is going to be inside the top 10 to win the championship. So you can do the numbers, you can do the math."
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