NASCAR & Auto Racing

Rain and wrecks decide race,

shuffle NASCAR's Chase field

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Nothing happened simply in Sunday’s LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway, particularly an ending that was almost as hard to see as it was for some to understand.

First of all, it was dark, thanks to two rain delays totaling three hours, when Greg Biffle came creeping off Turn 4 on Lap 210 to win the race under the yellow.

Biffle had passed Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 174, after the second rain delay that lasted nearly two hours 15 minutes, and knew he was in good shape when NASCAR decided the race would end at 210 laps – 15 laps sooner than planned after it was first cut from the scheduled 267.

When Juan Pablo Montoya blew his rear tires and spewed debris all over the backstretch on Lap 206, Biffle figured he’d have to keep Boywer at bay for a green-white-checkered finish. But when Biffle saw how much stuff was strewn on the track, he knew there wouldn’t be time to get it cleaned up and go racing again.

As he puttered around behind the pace car, Biffle also knew he was going to be low on fuel. Indeed, as he came through turns 3 and 4 on Lap 210 the engine sputtered. He dropped down off the banking, so the gas wouldn’t run away from the pickup in his fuel cell, and said he began unbuckling safety devices to prepare to celebrate his first win of 2007.

“I was steering with my knee,” Biffle said. “I was trying to save enough fuel to do burnouts and drive to Victory Lane. The race was over. The caution was out and we were the winner.”

Well, that was a matter of opinion.

Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup who’d mostly avoided the carnage that would widen the championship battle by days end, didn’t know what Biffle was up to. They didn’t care, either, believing that if Biffle’s car wasn’t going fast enough to keep up with the pace car they were allowed to pass the No. 16.

“I don’t know what the rule is, but I thought you have to be able to maintain the caution (car’s) pace and he couldn’t do that,” Bowyer said.

Johnson agreed. “I feel bad for the 16, but in my opinion that’s your winner,” he said, nodding toward Bowyer. “We’ll just have to see what the rule says.”

That, of course, was where NASCAR came in. Officials ruled that Biffle’s car was under power and maintaining a reasonable – with that being the key word – speed behind the pace car. Biffle was the winner, and quite frankly, didn’t even understand why anybody had any doubt about that.

“I could have passed the pace car, too, if you wanted me, too,” he said.

Given the way the day went, that might not have been a good idea. Something almost undoubtedly would have gone wrong.

The first part of the race ended dramatically on Lap 148 with Tony Stewart squeezing enough fuel out of his tank to make it until the red flag came out for the second and most serious rain storm.

The leaders had been racing just to get to the halfway point on Lap 134, and once that passed many of them came in for fuel. Stewart lingered, however, gambling that the torrential rain that was accompanied by vivid lightning and strong winds would end the day’s activities.

It did not, though, and that turned into big trouble for Stewart.

Once he pitted under yellow after the track was dry, Stewart was still the race leader but trapped behind a number of cars on the end of the lead lap. When Ken Schrader got turned on the first lap after green, Lap 156, the field stacked up and Stewart ran into fellow Chase drivers Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.

Stewart damaged the left-front of his car, but elected to stay on the track. When the green flew, tire smoke flew as he went through the turns. It abated for a lap or two, but on Lap 176 the tire blew. Kurt Busch rapped the back of Stewart’s car, sending it into a spin that collected Carl Edwards.

Stewart, Busch and Edwards were all Chase drivers, as was Denny Hamlin, who got hit in a wreck on Lap 186.

Kyle Busch got wrecked earlier, off the nose of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet, and Jeff Burton had a fuel pump failure early in the race.

Johnson and Jeff Gordon were among those trapped on the end of the lead lap after the second red flag, but both rallied. Johnson finished third and now leads Gordon, who finished fifth, by six points in the championship standings. Bowyer is third, 14 points back.

Almost everyone else took a big hit.

Stewart finished 39th and is 114 points behind Johnson. Kevin Harvick wound up sixth but is still 126 back. Kyle Busch, who’d had top fives in the first two Chase races, finished 41st and is 136 back.

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