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Rewind | Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. aren't where they want to be yet

Playing back some of the Darlington race weekend:

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

 You do not have to like Kyle Busch, but what he has done in NASCAR's top three series is remarkable. If you want to boo him until you cough up a lung that's completely your right. But I don't care how much you dislike Busch or anybody else, if you believe it's appropriate to throw anything from the grandstand you need to spend some serious time considering what's wrong with you and your life. And you don't have business being out among decent folks.

 Remember when everybody was asking how teams were going to beat Roush Fenway Racing after its good start this year? Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing might keep up this roll they've got going now, but history is fairly foursquare against it.

 It takes a special kind of genius to plot traffic flow at a race track. Darlington spent a lot of money to build a spiffy new tunnel under turns 3 and 4. It's really nice. But now that it's open, the track decided it'd be a fine idea to close off pretty much every way in and out of the infield it used to have. This, as you might imagine, caused no small amount of automotive constipation following Saturday's festivities.

PIT STOPS

Not quite - once again - for Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up fourth in the Dodge 500 Saturday night, his fourth top-five and eighth top-10 finish of the season. But he still hasn't won in his No. 88 Chevrolet.

"We had a real good car all weekend," said Earnhardt Jr., who started second and led four times for 35 laps in the race won by Kyle Busch. "But when the race started I knew we weren't exactly like we had been."

Earnhardt Jr. said after the race his crew told him they'd changed an lower A-frame.

"That might have changed how the car rolled over and traveled," he said. "We were off a little bit all night. ... But when you are off and you run fourth I guess you've got to be happy."

Earnhardt Jr. said he was disappointed in how the race played out.

"Track position was everything," he said. "You could not pass, period. That was the worst I've ever seen it as far as being able to pass."

Ragan wiggles his way into the top 12

At one point this season David Ragan said he spent time worrying about being in the top 35 in owner points to make sure he was locked into the race each week. Now, he can focus on another measuring stick.

Ragan's fifth-place finish Saturday night moved the second-year dirver into the top 12 - the cutoff to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup - for the first time this late in the season.

"It's something to talk about and something to enjoy, but guess what?" Ragan said. "In two more weeks everybody is going to forget about this race and focus on the next one. It can easily slip back and forth; this points race is pretty tight."

Through 11 races, Ragan has already matched his totals for top fives (two) and top 10s (three) from his rookie season last year. He is two points ahead of 13th-place Ryan Newman.

"To do this at Darlington is something special," Ragan said. "When you're running laps out there, you think about the guys who made this place famous like Cale Yarborough and (Bill) Elliott and David Pearson and it makes you realize how lucky we are to get to do this."

Gordon frustrated with top-five finish

Jeff Gordon may have matched his season's best third-place finish but remains frustrated with his inability to battle for race wins.

"I am happy that we are third but also frustrated because of how far off we are from winning races right now," Gordon said. "We did the tire test here at Darlington and (Kyle Busch) just kicked everybody's tails tonight. So, we have some work to do. Hopefully, we can get a little closer to them at Charlotte."

Gordon said he doesn't know where Busch was beating him Saturday night, but he knows what wasn't happening.

"It wasn't aerodynamics," Gordon said, "because Kyle hit the wall. I can't tell you how many times he tried to give this race away by slamming the wall. His right side was destroyed."

Gordon's finish moved him three spots, to 10th in the Sprint Cup standings, but he is just 62 points ahead of 13th.

Burton keeps consistency going

Jeff Burton is second in the Sprint Cup standings, 79 points behind leader Kyle Busch, after finishing 10th on the lead lap at Darlington. Burton has completed every lap in all 11 Cup races this year and his worst finish so far is 13th.

"Toward the last third of the race, I drove way more aggressively and my car got a lot better, too," he said. "We didn't hit anything all night and that was a good thing."

Burton said his team still has work to do if it wants to keep pace with Busch's team.

"They are just in a league of their own," Burton said. "That doesn't surprise me when you look at preseason testing. They were ridiculous fast. ...We've just got work to do. We've just got to keep working and I think we can get there, I really do. We're not there now. But I think we can get there."

Kenseth happy to get to the finish

Matt Kenseth wasn't just happy to finish sixth Saturday night, he was also just happy to finish the race with his No. 17 Ford in one piece and not be in the garage.

"We've been running so terrible and having such bad luck," he said. "The only little frustrating (thing) is the racing was kind of weird at the end. Everybody was trying to stretch (their gas) on that last five laps, so that was kind of weird. Other than that, it was good. It was a great finish."

In his previous three races, Kenseth had not finished better than 38th and had fallen from 13th to 22nd in points. He moved up to 20th with Saturday's finish.

"Everything pretty much went right for a change," Kenseth said.

Kvapil a surprise in the top 10

Not only did Travis Kvapil earn his second top-10 finish in the past three races, but at one point in Saturday night's race he was running fourth and looked ready to challenge for the lead.

"I really thought we had a chance to win there for a while, but we got behind with the adjustments," said Kvapil, in his first season driving the No. 28 Ford for Yates Racing. "We didn't make many adjustments and everybody else got better and we got tighter.

"It took two or three more (pit) stops to get the car right, but by then we had fallen back outside the top 10 and had to race hard to get back up there."

Kvapil's eighth-place finish - he finished sixth two weeks ago at Talladega, Ala. - moved him to 18th in points, only 111 out of the top 12.

Marlin loses his cool - literally

Sterling Marlin's return to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates this weekend turned out to be a little more than he bargained for.

Marlin, who earned Ganassi's first win in the Sprint Cup Series in 2001, returned to drive the organization's No. 40 Dodge in place of Dario Franchitti, who suffered an ankle injury in a wreck at Talladega.

During Saturday night's race, Marlin needed cold rags and oxygen during his pit stops after the interior cooling system of the car developed problems. He ended up 34th.

KEY MOMENTS

Lap 2 - Tony Stewart's Toyota gets pinched into the outside wall by Elliott Sadler's Dodge. Stewart loses two laps before the damage is repaired enough for him to continue. Stewart's car was eventually fast again, but it was way too little after this mess.

Lap 145 - Kyle Busch restarts the race in 23rd position after having to come back to pit road because of a missing lug nut on one of his rear wheels. Something apparently is wrong with the glue his team used to stick the lug nuts to the rims of new tires before the race.

Lap 171 - Greg Biffle comes to pit road with one, maybe two problems. He thinks there's a problem with the engine in his Ford that has been in or near the lead all night, but this time his crew fixes a flat tire and gets him back on the track.

Lap 234 - Biffle's car comes back to pit road, and this time it's not just a tire. There's smoke coming from the exhaust pipes and the crew goes under the hood and then to the garage. For a while it seemed Biffle might very well win this race. Instead, he finishes last.

Lap 270 - Busch completes his rally from the earlier issue, passing Jeff Gordon to take over the lead. From that point to the end of the race, the only way Busch was going to lose would be to wreck. He came close a couple of times, but kept going all the way to victory lane.

NEXT WEEK

Race name: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

Where: Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday.

TV: Speed.

Radio: Motor Racing Network.

Last year's winner: Kevin Harvick.

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