Once again, the "Big One" struck in a big way at Talladega Superspeedway.
A massive wreck during the final lap of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 gobbled up 10 of the 12 Chasers to some extent.
Matt Kenseth was the major beneficiary of the melee as he maneuvered himself to victory under caution.
In terms of the championship standings, however, the picture remains the same.
By sneaking through most of the carnage to finish seventh, Brad Keselowski further padded his point lead over Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
Those three also maintained relative separation from the rest of the Chase field. Still, the Chase is not even halfway completed, and a lot can change over the next six weeks. As Tony Stewart proved last year, anything is possible.
Although every Chase driver still has a mathematical shot at the championship, some have much better odds than others. Here are the odds for each of the twelve competitors after Talladega.
Please note: drivers will appear in order of their points positions.
Current Odds- 500:1
The fact that Matt Kenseth won the race at Talladega and is still mired in the Chase basement speaks volumes to the severity of the hole in which he finds himself.
Kenseth is currently 62 points behind Keselowski. He not only has to churn out a top five every weekend, but also rely on every other Chaser to experience issues. The likelihood of this happening is astronomically small. Kenseth does have a reputation as a streaky driver, but the gap is just too wide.
With no more "wild card" races like Talladega in the Chase, the chances of Kenseth being able to substantially cut into his deficit have disappeared. He can win a couple races by season's end, but he will need an absolute miracle to win the title.
Current Odds- 300:1
After putting together his most consistent regular season in years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has all but sunk his title chances.
Even though it was not his fault, he found himself within the Big One and lost four positions in the standings. Now in 11th, he also has to hope everyone else experiences problems. Unlike Kenseth, however, he has to greatly improve his own performance.
This team has lost a step during the Chase. They are not running up front like they were to start the season. Earnhardt is very strong at Martinsville and relatively competitive at the other remaining tracks, which will benefit him. Still, it seems as though it may come too little too late.
Fans can take solace in the fact that Earnhardt won a race and ran up front during the season. Unfortunately, he likely will not be winning the Sprint Cup.
Current Odds- 400:1
Normally a model of consistency, Kevin Harvick has struggled this season according to his standards.
After winning four races last season and fighting near the top of the standings, Harvick has only put together eleven top-ten finishes this season. Currently 10th in points, he has shown no indication that he is ready to be a legitimate Chase contender. In fact, he has remained relatively invisible the past four races.
As a whole, Richard Childress Racing has struggled mightily. Even though he is carrying the Childress banner, Harvick is still a championship afterthought.
Current Odds- 200:1
Even though Greg Biffle has been dominant at times during this season, a slow Chase start has him in a huge hole.
Luckily for Biffle, his strength is cookie-cutter speedways. He won at Texas earlier this season and was the car to beat for most of the Coca-Cola 600. He could compete for a couple wins and make a charge up the standings. The points gap is so big, however, that it likely would not matter anyway.
This season is turning into a huge disappointment for Roush Fenway racing. If there is one person who could give that organization something to get excited about, Biffle is that person.
Current Odds- 300:1
Martin Truex Jr. was considered a sleeper pick by many to win the championship. Unfortunately, he's yet to awaken during the Chase.
He's had two top tens and two mid-pack finishes the past four weeks. Although he has avoided absolute calamity, these so-so runs will not get it done with Keselowski and others running so well. He did run well at Kansas so I expect a good finish in that race. Otherwise, I don't see any tracks where Truex has the potential to make some serious noise.
The fact that two Michael Waltrip Racing cars are in the Chase is an accomplishment in itself. This will likely be the only thing Truex and his team will have to cheer about by season's end.
Current Odds- 150:1
Remember that miracle run that Stewart went on during last year's Chase? He will need to top it if he wants a shot at the title.
He was leading on the final lap at Talladega and looked to be in position to boost his chances. Then, as the photo above suggests, calamity struck. Stewart's wild ride dropped him to seventh in points and, more importantly, put him a full race behind Keselowski.
The coming home stretch of races was where Stewart hit his stride last season. He needs a lot of help, but if he can go on a similar run, he will have a chance.
You can never fully count out someone who has won three championships. In Tony's case, however, things are looking pretty grim right now.
Current Odds- 100:1
It seems as though Jeff Gordon has been fighting against all odds the entire season.
This was a guy who found himself 24th in points after an unimaginable string of bad luck during the early part of the season. After putting together one of the most amazing comebacks in NASCAR history, he barely skated into the Chase, only to have his throttle stick at Chicagoland.
He has rebounded nicely with three finishes of third or better, but has made up little ground on Keselowski. He is running great, but will go no further than fourth in points if Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin do not experience any issues.
The argument can be made that Gordon is the hottest driver on the track right now. Unfortunately, his early points deficit may be just too big to climb out of by the final lap at Homestead.
Current Odds- 120:1
Bowyer's Chase chances hit a huge roadblock (literally) at Talladega.
After starting the Chase with three top-tens, Bowyer looked like a legitimate contender for the first time since 2007. After finishing 23rd, however, the championship is out of his control. Much like those around him in the standings, Bowyer needs the three drivers in front to have trouble. While he won't dominate races, Bowyer seems to always find a way to finish up front. He will have to keep doing so to have any chance.
Two wins and a Chase berth are nothing to sneeze at. This is a good thing because there will likely be no championship for this team.
Current Odds- 50:1
Kasey Kahne looks to have the best chance to win the title aside from the big three atop the standings.
He won at Charlotte in May, and so he should be strong there once again. He also won at Phoenix last season. For the most part, the remaining tracks play to his strengths.
Unfortunately, his record at Martinsville is less than stellar. This could end up being the difference between winning the title and ending the year without it. Either way, this is a strong team and they should be competitive every single weekend.
Even though Kahne entered the Chase as a wild card, he hasn't raced like one. Still, time is slowly running out for his team.
Current Odds- 7:1
Denny Hamlin's Talladega strategy allowed him to minimize the damage accrued in the last lap wreck. Still, it didn't do him any real good in terms of points.
Only 23 points behind Keselowski, Hamlin is still in the thick of the title hunt. He is one of the drivers to beat at Martinsville and Phoenix. He has been fast all season. He also has arguably the best crew chief in the business in Darian Grubb. Hamlin is far beyond the 2011 slump he found himself in. He looks like the Hamlin of 2010 that gave Johnson all he could handle before coming up short.
Hamlin has won five races this season and always seems to make his way toward the front. If Johnson and Keselowski slip up, Hamlin will be there to pounce.
Current Odds- 5:1
The man they call "Five Time" is once again in position to race his way to the Sprint Cup.
Even though he could not escape the Big One on Sunday, Johnson remained second in points. He is only 14 points behind Keselowski, which means that if Brad has any sort of problem, Johnson can easily overtake him. He also leads the series in both top fives and top tens this season. He's still the best at what he does, and this will always make him a serious threat.
If fans have learned anything since 2006, it is to keep an eye out for Johnson come crunch time. This year will be no different.
Current Odds- 3:1
Brad Keselowski is quickly becoming the best driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Right now, he is the title favorite.
Wins in Joliet and Dover have vaulted Keselowski to the top of the standings. He survived Talladega and left with a solid seventh place finish. More importantly, he is currently the hottest driver on the circuit and looks unstoppable at the moment. He is very strong on mile-and-a-halves, which make up the majority of the remaining schedule. Barring any mechanical failures or pit mistakes, he should win the 2012 Sprint Cup.
The "blue deuce" has been rolling over opponents. I predict it will also roll out of Homestead with the check and hardware.