Two man 'Chase' battle shapes up

October 31, 2005 (Hampton, GA)
By Linda Przygodski -

It's still the Tony Stewart/Jimmie Johnson battle royale for the 2005 Nextel Cup. Both drivers had decent runs at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with Stewart edging out to a 43 point lead over Johnson.

A bad day for Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield and Kurt Busch have taken them out of championship contention with just three races to go to determine this years champion.

1. Tony Stewart: Finished 9th, Point leader
Quiet, consistent day for the No. 20 Chevy team.

"As fast as we are running here if you lose just a little bit of momentum it's huge," Stewart commented. "Half the time running eighth I couldn't even see the leaders. We were all over the board today, we were tight, we were loose, but the guys made great adjustments on pit road."

2. Jimmie Johnson: Finished 16th, (-43)
It wasn't quite the day the No. 48 Chevy team intended for when they entered Atlanta, but a 16th place finish keeps them close enough to Stewart to remain in contention for the title.

"We were competitive at one point," said Johnson. "I just feel like the car was abusive and we were wearing the right rear out. And then again, the track changed some more, or something changed and got away from us and we couldn't keep up with it."

3. Greg Biffle: Finished 7th, (-75)
Despite handling issues the No. 16 Ford team still managed to pull off a top-ten result.

"I was just loose all day," complained Biffle. "I thought I might have too much rear spring for it and it kind of took a dive for life and put some rubbers in the left-rear spring and put some wedge in it for that last run and it just killed my car."

4. Carl Edwards: Race Winner, (-107)
"I just have to thank Bob Osbourne (crew chief) and Jack Roush and everyone in the motor department. The engines in these cars are unbelievable, but most of all - all the folks behind me.

"We've got great sponsors. It's just unbelievable, this is great."

5. Ryan Newman: Finished 23rd, (-107)
Newman started on the pole but was shuffled back on the first lap. The team had to replace one of the aero-dynamic fins on the No. 12 Dodge but the handling on the car was off all day.

"It wasn't the day we wanted here at Atlanta," Newman explained. "We never got a good handle on the car. It went from tight to loose. There was no grip there a couple of times. We kept working on it, but we never could get it right. I fell a lap down and that hurt us, then I got into someone and got into the wall, and that didn't help anything, either.

"We ended up 23rd, two laps down, and that really hurt us in the points. We've got three to go, so we'll do the best we can and see how the rest of the season shakes down and where we ended up. It ain't over yet."

6. Mark Martin: Finished 3rd, (-143)
Martin was leading the race at lap 51 but was penalized for speeding on pit road sending him from first to 17th. Martin hung tough and through savvy strategy worked his way back to a third place finish.

"When it came time to go racing a couple of them snuck up there and outran us," explained Martin. "But, man, we put a whooping on a lot of them today."

7. Matt Kenseth: Finished 5th, (-155)
Edwards allowed Kenseth to lead a lap to gain those all important five bonus points. With a new spotter and a new car chief this week, the No. 17 team posted a strong top five run. The 17 team also nailed five pit stops of 12.5-seconds or less to gain Kenseth track position.

"That was great," said Kenseth. "It was a good day for us, a real good day in the pits. It would have been a little better without the mysterious cautions, but other than that we had a great day."

8. Rusty Wallace: Finished 37th, (-257)
Wallace made contact with the No. 66 of Carl Long causing heavy damage on the No. 2 Dodge at lap seven. At lap 70, Wallace had to the garage and make extensive repairs to the car.

"We got down into turn one and the 66 spun out right in front of me," Wallace said. "I couldn't go low, and I couldn't go high. There was nothing else I could do. I saw the 37 car shoot high, and I saw the 66 spin. I was a car length behind them, and I was trapped. That's three in a row now. It's absolutely unbelievable.

"I can't believe I came the whole season with no problems and right now at the very end it goes all to hell. They are fixing the fender. The left front fender was hitting the left front tire and blowing tires out. We're going to try to get back out and gain some points. That's about all we can do.

"This pretty well knocks us out (of winning The Chase)."

9. Kurt Busch: Finished 36th, (-260)

Busch cut a tire a hit the wall on lap 122 causing heavy damage on the No. 97 Ford. Eventually, he was forced to take the No. 97 Ford to the garage for repairs.

The reigning Nextel Cup champ declined comment.

10. Jeremy Mayfield: Finished 38th, (-310) Mayfield took to the garage early in the race with transmission problems.

"I'm not sure exactly what the problem was," said Mayfield. "It was pretty wild because we never have problems like this, but it's going to happen every once in awhile. This team will keep digging."

On the bubble:

11. Jamie McMurray: Finished 6th, 2318 points "We were actually pretty good," said McMurray. "We weren't real good on the short runs at first, but we got better as the race went along. We kept adjusting on it. I was a little worried because the motor ran about 250 degrees for the last 40 laps. It's cool in a 500-mile race to have an engine run like that. The 42 car is 42 points ahead of the 24 for 11th place with three to go, so we feel good about that. That's another top 10, but we'd really like to win one of these last three."

**Jeff Gordon gains three positions and moves into 12th trailing McMurray by 42 points.

"We aren't paying attention to 11th place," Gordon said "We're just having fun right now. We're in 2006 mode right now."

**Elliott Sadler sits 13th just 60 points out of 11th.

"I'm just glad we saw the checkered flag," commented Sadler. "We've had a lot of great cars here the last month and a half and haven't been able to show it. So, to see the checkered flag and get a top-10 was a big relief to this team."