KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Greg Biffle scored his first victory of the season Sunday — even though his car ran short on fuel before crossing the finish line — in a wild race that jumbled the Chase for the championship standings.
The Chase field imploded at Kansas Speedway, where rain and impending darkness cut the race short by 85 miles. Seven of the 12 Chase drivers finished 30th or worse, and defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson reclaimed the points lead.
He was one of the few Chase drivers to make it unscathed to the finish line, and when he got there, he questioned the finishing order.
The race ended under caution because Juan Pablo Montoya blew a tire with four laps to go in an event that NASCAR had already shortened by 57 laps. Montoya's caution should have set up an overtime finish, but NASCAR declined to restart the race because of impending darkness.
The event was finished under caution, and Biffle's car began to sputter on the last lap. As his car coasted toward the line, local star Clint Bowyer and Johnson both passed him before he reached the checkered flag. Johnson immediately said Kansas native Bowyer should be celebrating in Victory Lane, not Biffle, and Bowyer agreed.
"It was definitely dark, and it was starting to be a concern, but it wasn't dark enough that I couldn't see (Biffle) having trouble," Bowyer said. "I just didn't know what to do. I knew it wasn't right, but I didn't think they expected us to pull down in the grass and follow him.
"I don't know what happened, (Biffle) didn't cross it the way I thought you were supposed to, but I know they're not going to pull him out of Victory Lane."
The ending was par for the course on this wild Sunday.
Rain caused two delays totaling almost three hours, Kyle Busch was wrecked minutes after the race by the driver who got him fired from Hendrick Motorsports, and two-time series champion Tony Stewart gambled twice — the first one put him in position to win, and the second one took him out of contention.
When the dust finally settled, the points standings had been blown open for a Chase field that entered the event with the top six drivers separated by just 28 points.
Now Johnson has a six-point lead over teammate Jeff Gordon, and Bowyer is in third, 14 points out.
Stewart, who started the day just two points out of the lead, finished 39th and dropped to fourth — 117 points out.
Kevin Harvick finished sixth to jump four spots in the standings to fifth, 126 points out.
Busch, who came into the race 10 points out of the lead, finished 41st. He's sixth in the standings, 136 points out, and blamed his poor day squarely on Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt ran into the back of Busch very early in the race when he closed in on his rear bumper in an attempt to pass. The contact sent Busch sliding down the track, and his car then rocketed back across and into the wall.
Busch was furious at Earnhardt, who was hired in June to drive for Hendrick next season. The move cost Busch his spot with the elite four-car team.
"I left a lane for him on the outside because I knew he was going to have a good run coming off the corner. He ran me over for no reason whatsoever," Busch said. "Just an unfortunate circumstance and I am sure these guys aren't very appreciative of the guy who is going to be racing for them next year just dumped their car that has a great shot for the championship."
Earnhardt was apologetic, but the damage was done. Fortunately for Busch, most of the Chase field struggled, as well.
Matt Kenseth (35th) and Martin Truex Jr. (38th) wrecked on the first lap after the race resumed following the second rain delay. Stewart was involved in that accident, causing fender damage that his crew chief decided not to attempt to fix.
The damage caused a rub that led to his tire to explode. Kurt Busch (11th) ran into the back of him, sending him spinning into the path of Carl Edwards. Stewart was fuming after the wreck, angrily removing his steering wheel and throwing his gloves, helmet and safety gear as he exited his car.
Stewart, who put himself in position to win the race by not pitting for gas right before the second rain delay, declined comment as he left the race track.
Edwards, last week's race winner, finished 37th and lamented the sequence of events. He said his spotter thought Stewart should have pulled off the track for repairs when the tire rub sent billowing white smoke from his car.
"Tony had a tire rubbing for a long time, must have been going down or something," Edwards said. "He thought maybe Tony should have pulled in and fixed his car, but if our car started smoking, we would have been begging to stay out, too. So I see both sides of it. That's just how it goes, man."