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Indy has ups and downs

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          NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, July 31, 2008
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Day's story at Indy has ups and downs in points race
Harvick, Kenseth the biggest losers; Ragan makes gain
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM

INDIANAPOLIS - Every event in the run to the cutoff for 
the Chase for the Sprint Cup is critical and, on Sunday, 
when a stunning miscalculation on the tire combination 
for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard affected everything 
about the competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 
tires only affected one of the most radical point swings. 

Maybe that was the case. Denny Hamlin, who came into the 
day 12th in the Chase standings, had his race affected 
by the tire situation and its accompanying odd strategic 
decisions; yet Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief 
Mike Ford played the game well enough to finish third and 
advance four spots in the standings. 

While acknowledging that, Hamlin was still disappointed 
not to win. 

"When we saw the 17 [Matt Kenseth] had issues, the 83 
[Brian Vickers] blew up, we knew we needed a top-10 day," 
Hamlin said. "We knew that, at the beginning of the day. 
This race only comes around once a year [and] it's 
prestigious -- so you hate to let a win slip away. In the
back of your mind, you have to be happy knowing you had a 
good points day [and] that's where we are." 

But that's the chase for the top spots in the standings. 
With six events remaining before the Chase cutoff at 
Richmond International Raceway's Chevy Rock & Roll 400, 
Kevin Harvick fell four positions in the standings and 
out of the top-12 spots that guarantee a place in the 
Chase. 

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But rather than experiencing tire trouble, Harvick's 
No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was caught 
in a spin by Kurt Busch's No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge, 
which resulted in a 37th-place finish for Harvick and 
40th for Busch, the inaugural 2004 Chase winner who's 
also struggling to get back to 12th. 

Kenseth had a catastrophic right-rear tire failure on his 
No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, making him the Chase 
contender most directly affected by tires, and while his 
crew also made a good recovery to get Kenseth to the 
finish in 38th, he dropped three spots in the standings 
and currently sits 11th, only four points clear of 12th-
place Clint Bowyer, who missed an opportunity to gain 
more ground Sunday when his No. 07 RCR Chevrolet finished 
19th. 

Just how critical each race is, is borne out by Harvick's 
13th position being only two points behind Bowyer, which 
gives Harvick a positive vibe for this weekend's Pocono 
race. 

"Our Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet was going to be really good 
[Sunday so] my guys did a great job getting me back out 
on the racetrack after the accident so early in the race 
-- they've done a great job the last couple of months," 
Harvick said. "We'll just go on to Pocono and try and 
get the best finish we can and get ourselves back in the 
top 12 in points. Hopefully, we will be good and I think 
we will be fine for the Chase." 

David Ragan, who's made the most of his second season in 
Cup, took full advantage of the circumstances by driving 
his No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford into 14th at the finish, which 
enabled him to cut his gap to 12th in the standings 
virtually in half, from 98 points behind coming into the 
day to 56 behind Bowyer coming out. 

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"That was the weirdest race I've ever been in," Ragan 
said of taking advantage of his veteran crew chief Jimmy 
Fennig's expertise. "To conserve tires and think about 
stopping that often and it was just kind of a different 
strategy than we've ever been a part of and we learned 
from it." 

Vickers was another big loser, who lost a position in the 
standings, but more importantly went from 95 points behind 
12th coming into the day to 132 points behind going out 
after the engine in his No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota 
failed, relegating him to 42nd in the rundown. 

"We never can afford to take a points hit -- it's a tough 
day out there," Vickers said when he got to the garage. "We 
dropped a cylinder. They tried to take the parts out so we 
could continue to run, but it didn't last." 

In addition to Busch, who also missed a golden opportunity 
to gain and might have suffered a critical blow when he 
went from 245 points behind 12th coming into the day to 
281 out leaving Indy, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. also 
missed golden opportunities to make bigger gains in the 
standings. 

Newman's third-place starting position in Penske Racing's 
No. 12 Dodge ended in a 13th-place finish that only enabled 
him to gain 18 points in the standings, currently 144 out 
of 12th. 

Truex, whose Chase hopes were severely impaired by a 150-
point penalty incurred after his No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Inc. 
Chevrolet failed to pass opening inspection at Daytona 
earlier this month, spent time in the top 10 on Sunday, 
but ended up finishing 24th, which gained him 17 points 
in the standings, leaving him 216 out of 12th. 

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"We had the same issues most of the other guys had," said 
Truex, who added that the situation was probably the most 
frustrating he'd ever experienced in racing. "The right-
side tires would wear out after about 10 laps. There were 
times out there when you were just hanging on, hoping your 
right-rear tire wouldn't blow. It's frustrating when you 
can only go 10 laps and have to start worrying about the 
tires." 

Truex also was working again with crew chief Mike Greci, 
who he formerly worked with in the NASCAR Touring Division, 
as Greci replaces regular crew chief Bono Manion for his 
six-race suspension that came with the Daytona penalty.

"Mike did a really good job this weekend," Truex said, 
"and all the guys worked hard and we had the car pretty 
good during the race. I wish we could have gotten a 
better finish, but it's just tough when you're racing 
for only 10 or 12 laps at a time [so] we'll just have 
to put this behind us and get ready for Pocono." 

Teams are pursuing getting into the top 35 in the owner 
standings just as vigorously and Scott Riggs' achievement 
Sunday in Haas CNC Racing's No. 66 Chevrolet was almost 
lost in the tire hubbub and the Race to the Chase.

Riggs' 25th-place finish was only so-so, but combined 
with Michael McDowell's 34th-place run in Michael Waltrip 
Racing's No. 00 Toyota and Riggs' team jumped over 
McDowell's in the owner standings and thus will be in 
35th, and locked into the field for next weekend's 
Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. 

Haas CNC is feverishly trying to get its 66 into the top 
35 and keep it there, so when former two-time champion 
Tony Stewart moves to the two-car team in 2009 as an 
owner-driver, he could wheel the non-top-35 car using a 
past champion's provisional -- if that program is in 
place -- to guarantee his place in the lineup while his 
teammate would drive the guaranteed car. 

McDowell, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate who 
has maintained a position in the top 35 since his season 
started in the sixth race of the year, goes to Pocono 14 
points out of the top 35, but more critically needing to 
qualify for the race on his speed. 

In June, McDowell qualified 39th for the Pocono 500 and he 
would have made the field, barely, if he was a "go-or-go-
home" car.  

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