Picture for the Chase gets clearer with the help of the Sony HD 500

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

FONTANA, Calif. -- Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray are in. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler are out -- for the moment.

The Nextel Cup race in Richmond, Va., on Saturday night is all that remains before the start of the 10-race Chase for the championship, and the last two positions in the 10-man title battle remain up for grabs among those five drivers.

If Sunday night's race at California Speedway is any indicator, nothing will be decided until the final laps of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400.

Kyle Busch raced to his first Nextel Cup victory Sunday night at the Sony HD 500, a race that went to overtime and scrambled the bottom of the top 10 in the point standings.

Busch, a 20-year-old rookie and the younger brother of reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, took control late in the 254-lap race at California Speedway. Kenseth and McMurray jumped into the top 10, while Newman and Gordon fell out.

Kenseth, coming off his first win of the season a week earlier in Bristol, Tenn., had a solid seventh-place finish. McMurray was right behind in eighth while Newman (18th) and Gordon (21st) had problems late in the race. Sadler never challenged Sunday after winning this event a year ago and finished 17th. Sadler remained 13th, with just 62 points separating the quintet.

"We can't relax or take anything for granted until after Richmond is over," McMurray said. "I know throughout the race, it fluctuated huge. At one point, I was 30th on the racetrack, but we were able to come back."

A year ago, McMurray missed out on the inaugural Chase by 16 points.

"Last year, I was in the deal with 10 or 15 laps to go and broke a spring or something," he said.

Kenseth, 17th in the points after the Pocono race July 24, is surprised to find himself in position to race for the championship. Still, he was disappointed to fall from second, challenging eventual winner Kyle Busch, to seventh late in Sunday's Sony HD 500.

"The team is the same," the 2003 series champion said. "They did a good job at the beginning of the year and they're doing a good job now. We had a lot of things happen to us at the beginning of the year -- a lot of flat tires, some broken parts and I wrecked some stuff.

"Now things are going our way more often, although I took a second-place car and finished seventh in this one. But the crew did a great job all night."

Kenseth takes nothing for granted.

"We're not in it, yet," he said. "We have a week to go."

Newman trails McMurray for the 10th spot by only one point. Gordon, who went into the California race in 10th, is 30 points behind McMurray. Sadler, with his hopes fading, is another 22 back.

"We're not that far off and we know anything can happen," Newman said. "All we can do is go to Richmond and try to win that race. If we do that, the points will take care of themselves."

Gordon, the four-time series champion and three-time California winner, had handling problems late in the race that cost him.

"We just haven't performed this year," he said. "I thought we had a good car going into this race. Obviously, that wasn't the case, so why should I be the one predicting what's going to happen in Richmond. We had a good test there, but certainly what we've done in the past doesn't mean anything right now."

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