Well, 26 races and it all came down to one lap and two drivers battling for one position. For 12 drivers, the season continues with more on the line than in the last 26 races.
For the rest of the field they want to play spoiler. First you have to make it in and at the green flag, eight spots up for grabs and 11 drivers battling to get in.
Denny Hamlin has called Richmond his Daytona and he owned it Saturday night. With a Chase berth secured, Hamlin was going for a win.
Hamlin, since his win at Pocono, has been on a tear, with strong top 10 finishes. He is showing the rest of the field he will be a contender.
Hamlin is Joe Gibbs Racing's only hope for a championship, and he looked like a champion the way he ran on Saturday night.
From 10th to first: not a bad deal for a guy who insisted he was not worried about points for most of the season. After starting on the pole and running in the top five for most of the night, Martin came home fourth.
Martin has the point lead to the green flag in Loudon, when it could all change. Many drivers are saying to keep an eye on Martin for the championship; those drivers are the ones not in the Chase.
What a night for Brian Vickers, racing at one of his worst tracks, average finish wise. Vickers needed to finish and it had to be in the top 10. He was racing not only Kyle Busch but also Matt Kenseth.
Vickers ran a perfect race and the car was at its best when it mattered. He finished seventh and raced his way into the Chase.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Vickers made the also isn't so surprising after all.
Looks like Jeff Gordon got his rhythm back just in time for the Chase. After hard wrecks at Watkins Glen and a poor finish at Bristol, Gordon is looking a lot like he did early this season.
Gordon had the second-best car for most of the night and ran up front. After a restart mix up with Clint Bowyer, he rebounded to finish third.
Gordon is as optimistic and as relaxed going into the Chase as we have ever seen him. His experience will be important, and Gordon is banking on riding this momentum through the Chase.
Stewart Haas Racing
Well for a first year owner and driver Tony Stewart has accomplished some big time goals. Nobody expected them to come out of the gate the way they did, and Stewart led the standings for the last few months.
Stewart though is not taking for granted the success they have found this year, and he is hoping to make some history himself come November.
Ryan Newman made a risky move from as well established organization at Penske to a struggling organization that had never won before. His goal going into the season was to finish in the top 15; well, making the Chase has exceeded that.
Newman while he doesn’t have a win, is always a threat, and if they can get on a roll, this team could be the one to watch.
Juan Pablo Montoya
It took three years but Juan Pablo Montoya finally has made the Chase and he has been close numerous times to winning his second race.
Montoya, who has admitted he has been points racing since Dover in the spring, did exactly what he needed to get himself in position for the Chase.
If you are looking for the guy to watch and want a dark horse, Montoya might be the one. He has a good poker face and still hasn’t shown his hand yet.
Well this time Kasey Kahne did not need to race his way into the Chase. After a thrilling win in Atlanta, Kahne came in here a lock to make the Chase and just needed to avoid trouble.
With two wins this season, he is in the best position he has been in the Chase in a long time.
Kahne was in Busch''s position last year, outside looking in. It wouldn’t be crazy to think he could win a few races in the Chase this year.
Been a rough few weeks for this team, after back-to-back poor finishes, Busch was suddenly in the danger zone of not making the Chase. With a lot on the line, they played it safe and ran well on Saturday and secured a Chase berth.
After missing it last year, Busch has the most improved race team, and deserves to be in the Chase with how they have run in 2009.
Well you can’t bet against this team ever. They were the favorite coming into the season by many and will be the favorite in the Chase. With three wins so far this year, they haven’t really hit their peak.
They have been struggling lately, with some handling issues and some tough luck that have cost them not only wins but top 10 and top five finishes.
Look for them to get it together by Sunday and be ready to defend the title. Johnson is the favorite until one of the 11 other drivers prove otherwise. Period.
Kenseth needed to run his best race of the season tonight. Coming into the race he held a slim lead over Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch for the final spot in the standings. The weekend though didn't go as planned when he qualified 28th.
This team completely missed the setup and as the green flag waved Kenseth quickly began to drop back. During the first caution, a miscommunication had Kenseth pitting when he should have stayed out and he was marred back in traffic in 37th.
The night did not get any better for Kenseth as he ended up a lap down after halfway and was never able to race in the top 20 all night long.
He has never missed the Chase since its inception, and his disappointing 25th place finish all but assured that.
You know it was hard to put Busch on this list, because four wins and not in the Chase is a hard pill to swallow. With Kenseth's struggles, though, getting into the Chase had one less hurdle to overcome.
The other one was Vickers.
Busch battled a very loose race car for most of the day. He had one really good run just in the middle of the race. The team had solid pit stops but with a ill handling car Busch was never able to lead a lap. When it was all over Vickers was eight points better. Busch finished fifth.
While the Chase berth came down to eight points tonight, Busch lost the Chase berth four months ago with consecutive finishes outside the top 20 and poor handling cars.
Now Busch gets to play spoiler, which should make the rest of the field nervous.
Had you told me at the beginning of the year that David Reutimann had a shot at the Chase, I would have said you were crazy. A win maybe, but a Chase berth not in the cards, well Reutimann nearly proved me wrong.
Reutimann had a strong start to the season, and found himself firmly in the top 12, until a string of poor finishes after his win at Lowes.
They were a long shot after Atlanta, with Clint Bowyer struggles and eliminating himself from contention, Reutimann suddenly ended up being the guy who could spoil the party if anyone 10-14th ran into any issues.
While it never played out Reutimann ran well enough and finished 20th.
Reutimann had an outside shot to make the Chase and nobody expected him to make the Chase.
Then again no one expected him to win a race and he did that.
Roush Fenway Racing
Greg Biffle will start 12th in the Chase on Sunday. Biffle though has not looked like a championship contender this year. He has had some decent runs, Biffle and his crew have a lot of work to do. This organization as a whole is behind, and it is showing with the results on the track.
Tonight, Biffle was just as close to being knocked out of the Chase as his teammate Kenseth was. Biffle and the team struggled with the race car and they struggled in traffic. Unable to get track position, they finished 13th.
Biffle will need to do what he did last year and that is win in the Chase if he wants to have a shot at the top drivers.
Carl Edwards who last year going into the Chase had six victories, this year he is entering with zero. A lot has changed since last year, Edwards doesn’t seem to have the same equipment he had last year.
He has had some tough luck and really has struggled with this race car. He was never was a factor for the win on Saturday. He finished 15th, but really the finish doesn’t tell the whole story. They struggled with the handling on this race car more so than expected.
I am not shocked that he has not won so far in 2009. I am more disappointed in the results. Some not of their making,other races he should have won had it not been for driver mistakes or crew issues.
Edwards needs the Chase to turn momentum hopefully for the better.
While every driver who made the Chase is technically a winner tonight, a few drivers are carrying a ton of momentum going into Loudon next Sunday.
This field is one of the best Chase fields we have ever had. With only 40 points separating Martin and Biffle, the championship really is up for grabs.
A few drivers really need to get to work particularly the Roush Fenway organization, while they have two drivers in the Chase they are not running well when it matters the most.
On the other hand, a few other drivers are running the best they have all season, and the results are showing that. Drivers like Gordon and Hamlin and Vickers seem to be building momentum at the right time.
Now we’re going to read that the Chase needs to be changed, a wildcard for the driver with the most wins. While it came down to just a handful of points for the Chase, running well the whole year is and should be what gets you in the Chase; consistency is key.
Wins are important, but they shouldn’t and can’t decide a championship. If that’s the case then Edwards would be the defending series champion, not Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR got exactly what they had hoped when they first started this format, a real battle down to the end.
Next up is Loudon, the first test for these drivers and the first chance for the rest of the field to play spoiler.