In the final night race of the year, and the only night race, of the Chase the NASCAR Sprint Cup series drivers and crews got to play in their own backyard on Saturday night.
With the title far from decided six drivers are within 121 points for the trophy going into the race. 31 other drivers were looking to play spoiler and steal the Chase drivers thunder on Saturday night.
Check out the winners and losers of the NASCAR Banking 500.
What can you say; Jimmie Johnson can take a bad race car and pull out a win with it. Johnson once again showed why Lowes Motor Speedway is his house. He didn’t dominate today but he was able to maintain track position and pull away on a late restart.
Johnson was not very happy with his car early on, in fact he was struggling with the handling of the car. Once again they were able to work on the car and with the best pit stall more times than not they were able to win the race off of pit road.
Johnson expanded his point lead but he can not rest easy as his teammates are not just rolling over each week. Johnson wanted to win badly as Saturday marked the final time his primary sponsor Lowes Home Improvement would be the sponsor at the Charlotte race track.
Johnson is making it look easy, but that does not mean it will be.
After a rough ending in California that saw Kasey Kahne racing for a top 10 finish to crashing late in the race and collecting a DNF. Kahne headed to Lowes with some confidence as in recent years Kahne has found some success on this track.
Kahne started in the top five and never really ran outside of it. In fact he had one of the best cars all night long. Kahne was running one of Richard Petty Motorsports older engines, Kahne said early on he like this engine package and his lap times proved that.
Kahne had issues at times with a loose race early on in the race and then as the night wore on he would get tighter. The team worked on the car and was able to make solid adjustments on his car and keep the track position all night long.
Kahne finished third and could have challenged for the lead had it not been for a vibration on the final restart. Give this team and driver credit they clearly put California behind them and were ready to challenge for the win.
Kahne is out of the championship hunt, but he made it clear with his run on Saturday night, he will not go down easy.
Sprint Cup rookie Joey Logano put on an impressive effort on Saturday night. His finish doesn’t tell the whole story and it wasn’t very easy for Logano.
Under the third caution for light rain, Logano came onto pit road after running in the top 10. He followed Kahne, whose pit stall was in front of Logano. Instead Logano slid past his pit and was forced to back up. This cost him a lot of time on pit road and he was restarting deep in the pack.
Logano though showed a lot of patience with traffic and worked his way back into the top 25. He was back in the top 15 after halfway and by the end of the race he was battling for a top five finish.
Logano finished fifth on Saturday night. He showed a lot of maturity for his mistake early on. His team on pit road also helped with great pit stops and made no mistakes, to aid in their comeback.
Logano at times looks like a rookie like that first pit stop and then other times he is racing seasoned veterans and making it look easy.
It is all about learning and Logano is doing just that, coming back to tracks for a second time Logano is improving each week.
Sam Hornish Jr.
In recent weeks Sam Hornish Jr. had been running well. Coming into the race at Lowes Motor Speedway, Hornish was looking to continue his recent runs on Saturday night. It only took three laps into the 334 lap event; he was already in for a long night.
On lap three, Hornish got loose coming out of turn two and spun down in front of half the field. Luckily the only damage caused was to the back of his car and TV panel. They came down pit road and worked on repairing the damage.
A few laps later, Hornish brought out the next caution when he spun in turn four. This time the damage was a bit more severe. Hornish went to the garage to make repairs and hoping to get back out there and gain as many points as possible.
They came back on track but many laps down, they finished 40th, 36 laps off the pace.
Many drivers claim the three year rule for drivers is important. If they can run well at year three in their Sprint Cup career, then usually success comes with it.
Hornish is on year three in this sport and still not getting consistent results.
If Carl Edwards was going to get back into the title hunt, Lowes would have to be the place he would do it. Edwards was the championship favorite by many in February, but tonight they looked as lost on the track as I think I have ever seen him on the track.
This team was not fast this weekend. They struggled in all three practices and in qualifying. They started 28th and were battling a very loose race car. They made whole sale changes on this car during their first pit stop and ended up going a lap down.
With so many cars going a lap down and a ill handling race car, Edwards was out of this race before it even started. On lap 304, Edwards’s engine expired and a dejected Edwards and his team headed to the garage.
They finished 39th on Saturday night.
The biggest disappointment in 2009 has to be Edwards’s subpar performance. His organization, Roush Fenway Racing as whole underperformed this year and that has hurt them in the Chase.
Edwards and his team have to be looking toward next year, and getting better.
Juan Pablo Montoya
For the last four races in the Chase, Juan Pablo Montoya was sitting in position in the championship standings. They were the only driver coming into Saturday night’s race to finish in the top five in every Chase race.
Well that was going to change by the time they took the checkers on Saturday.
On a restart, after Kyle Busch spun, Montoya and Mark Martin ran into each other and both had damage to their car. Montoya received the worst damage to his right rear quarter panel. Montoya began to drop back, still crew chief Brian Pattie kept Montoya on track.
Montoya unable to drive the car spun out, a frustrated Montoya started to unravel on the radio. After a quick word from Pattie, Montoya began to refocus and they hit pit road and began to make repairs. The damage was already done, both for a win tonight and in the championship.
Montoya finished 35th and four laps off the pace.
Montoya impressive top five finish streak ended along with his championship hopes.
For Jeff Gordon and his team, somehow each week they find themselves up front when it matters the last month or so.
They didn’t start out with a great race car; they dropped back quickly with a very loose race car. After making an adjustment on the car they were unable to make up the loss ground to the leaders. Crew chief Steve LeTarte made a call on pit road that got them track position.
A two-tire stop put them out front from then on they did not run outside the top 10 again. They finished fourth on Saturday night.
They did lose ground to Johnson, but Gordon is still in this championship. A few weeks ago, nobody thought that Gordon had a real chance at the title, but they have gone from 10th to third in the standings in the last three weeks.
Tonight a great pit call by LeTarte gave Gordon hope in his bid for a fifth championship.
Earlier in the week I said this weekend’s race at Lowes, would have a huge affect on the point’s standings. There is something about this track that affects the drivers, whether it is mistakes, poor handling race cars or a combination of the two.
Just like last year, the Chase drivers could not afford to make any mistakes and just like last year Chase drivers experienced many of the issues on Saturday night.
In this article multiple times I talked about track position, because quite frankly it was essential to having a good run and finish. The drivers who found it were able to capitalize, the drivers who did not struggled in in "dirty air".
It is looking more and more that the championship will come down to come down to a Hendrick Motorsports showdown.
No other organization is able to compete with them each week. Every race in the Chase has been won by HMS driver or a chassis supplied by HMS.
Next week they head to Martinsville, the only short track in the Chase.