On Sunday, the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup took another bizarre, yet entertaining, turn.
Unlike last week's crew swap between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and the brawl between Gordon and Jeff Burton, the Kobalt Tools 500 was notable for what happened on the track rather than off it.
Denny Hamlin dominated the day, having the performance that seems of solidify champions. The No. 11 Toyota paced the field for 190 laps, taking the lead away from Carl Edwards on lap 66 and almost maintained the spot for every remaining green flag lap.
That is, until Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, told him on lap 212 that the team was well short on its current fuel cycle. There were only four cautions to that point in the race, certainly a small enough number to hinder each team's fuel projections. However, it was a stunning blunder by one of the best crew chiefs in the garage.
Hamlin had to pit with 14 laps to go, surrendering the lead to Edwards, who proceeded to break a 70-race winning streak by taking the checkered flag.
Meanwhile, Hamlin's two main rivals for the Sprint Cup—Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick—had slightly eventful days.
Even though ESPN decided to focus on the three contenders, Johnson's day remained relatively calm. Like he's been known to do throughout the Chase era, he lingered throughout the top-10 all afternoon. When crew chief Chad Knaus told his driver that they were short on fuel, the No. 48 Chevy never went down pit road, finishing fifth in a fuel-mileage finish.
Some would say Johnson had a title-worthy day.
As for "Happy," the No. 29 Chevy moved through the field in the early stages of the races after starting 29th, entering the top 10 on lap 88. Running fifth during a series of pit stops under caution on lap 225, Harvick's crew left a lug nut off one of the car's wheels, forcing him to lose 14 positions while coming down pit road to fix the issue.
Like Johnson, Harvick benefited from fuel conservation, ending the race with a fifth-place finish.
Where does that leave us now?
Three drivers (Hamlin, Johnson, Harvick) are now within 46 points of each other heading into the final race of the Chase next Sunday in Homestead, Fla.
The final 267 laps of the Sprint Cup season should be entertaining to watch.
Thoughts? Comment below.
Ryan Papaserge is a junior journalism/mass communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a writing intern at Bleacher Report.
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