Well, what a week, from Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards battling in the garage to drivers getting upset with Kyle Busch for "brake-checking" (NASCAR did later say Busch did nothing wrong on the restart).
What a week, and the points took a major change once again. Next up is the short track at Martinsville. So here's how the points standings look.
After Denny Hamlin's hard hit at Talladega, which included an overnight stay at UAB Hospital for precautionary measures, Hamlin just wanted to finish the race on Saturday and stay out of trouble.
With his title hopes over within the last couple weeks, it's all about testing for next year. Hamlin and crew are looking just to get as much information on the new car for 2009.
Hamlin wasn't great and he wasn't bad; the team adjusted to the car and the track. A late hit into the wall, and Hamlin saw any chance of contending for a win slip away.
Coming home in a respectable 16th was not something to write home about, but for Hamlin, he made it through the race without any hard hits.
Denny Hamlin: Eliminated
I said last week that for Matt Kenseth, Lowe's was key. If he could maintain position or gain points on the leaders, he still had a shot.
But after unloading and struggling to find speed on the track, Kenseth saw his title hopes crash, literally. In one of the cautions getting swept up in another mess has been the one consistent aspect to this team's 2009 campaign.
For Kenseth, the remaining races will be about testing and learning as much as possible about the new cars at the remaining tracks. They are looking for their first win of the year, so their goals will change also now that the championship is out of reach.
Matt Kenseth: Eliminated
I had already eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr. last week. But I did expect him to be racing for wins just as hard as he was early in the year. I think one positive about Saturday night is that if you heard the radio conversation between Jr. and his crew Chief Tony Eury Jr., they were communicating.
They were discussing what needed to be done, which is something Jr. had been criticized for not doing.
What happened was out their control. So just like Hamlin and Kenseth, Jr. will be racing for wins and testing for next year, using what data they get from the next couple tracks to apply to next year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Deflated
Kyle Busch has been struggling in the Chase. I didn't expect him just to roll over and play dead, even though he's out of the championship.
After having issues the first three weeks of the Chase and coming home with a strong run at Talladega, he came to Lowe's just to gain points and positions in the standings.
He was a strong contender for most of the evening, until a late race penalty on pit road put him one lap down. He battled to stay on the tail end of the lead lap and came home with a top five finish there first in the Chase.
For Kyle Busch, while the Chase has been disappointing, he is still battling. But for this team, it's about preparing for next year. I don't think this the last we will hear of Kyle Busch in the Chase this year or in the future. It's all about playing spoiler for this guy.
Kyle Busch: Determined and ticked off, but still eliminated
Jeff Gordon, out of all the drivers on Saturday night, had the most eventful night. He brushed the wall twice in the first 10 laps, had to hit pit road, and fell one lap down. He battled to get the lucky dog and came all the way from 43rd to first.
Leading 46 laps and being off sequence in the pits really ruined this team's chance of a win. Had there been no caution late in the race, they had plans to stay out. But that's not how Jeff Gordon's year has been going.
I have to say this, in the last couple weeks, we have raced at multiple 1.5 tracks, where throughout the year, this team has struggled.
In recent weeks, they have been somewhat competitive, and were it not for brushing the wall so early, this team might have had a better outcome.
Now for Gordon, who lost less than 20 points off the last week and maintained position, I am going to keep him in the hunt, by a tiny margin.
That's only because Martinsville is one of his best tracks, and anything can happen there. His championship hopes are slim, though one misstep and it's realistically over, if not already.
Look for Gordon, who is also searching for his first win of the year, to be strong this weekend. In the early race this year, he battled back from an early mishap to lead the race. So this could be Gordon's last realistic chance to win a race this year.
Jeff Gordon: Hanging on for dear life...
After Tony Stewart's controversial win at Talladega, I was hoping to see Smoke just come out and dominate. He carried the most momentum of any driver.
But after leading early and moving up through the field within the first 20 laps, Smoke and crew attempts to adjust to the car in traffic ruined what could have been.
A late pit road penalty put him one lap down, he also battled back to get on the lead lap and finished in 11th.
With Smoke's tenure ending at Joe Gibbs Racing, look to see him go for broke in the next couple weeks to end on a high note. Like Gordon, his championship hopes are slim. But he also maintained position.
So for now he's still in it. But unless he wins at Martinsville, it's time to race for wins and strong finishes.
Smoke: Still seeing fire...
Kevin Harvick had an eventful week, from fighting in the garage to struggling on the track. For him, the drama off the track was a distraction.
Even with a disappointing finish at Talladega, he had momentum coming into this week. After strong runs and quietly gaining points, his championship run came to a halt this week.
He struggled all night long. He was never really with the leaders and never adjusted to the racetrack.
Martinsville is key for Harvick; he can't afford to lose any more ground to the leaders. He needs to stay in touch with them this weekend.
If he loses any ground, he along with a few others will be racing for wins. Harvick is still searching for a win this year.
Kevin Harvick: Still fightin'...fightin' mad...
Clint Bowyer who seems to be (besides Jeff Burton) the most consistent in the chase, yet without a win he has made baby steps on the leaders. Bowyer needs to make a statement this weekend with a win. Without that, he can play spoiler.
I am impressed with his run this year. He barely got into the Chase, but has quietly avoided troubles and had good finishes. However, good finishes won't win you championships, just a strong finish in the standings.
Clint Bowyer: Lurking
Carl Edwards couldn't wait to leave Alabama. He couldn't wait to come to Lowe's and focus on racing. That was until he saw Kevin Harvick, and all Edwards couldn't wait to do was confront Harvick about his comments.
With all that distraction, this team didn't need what would come next: an electrical issue that stalled the No. 99 on the track before an early restart. It tool the 16 laps to figure out the issue and at that point what could have been, left them scratching there heads.
Now Edwards is not out of the title hunt, by any means. But he is going to have to be smart to avoid issues at places like Martinsville and Atlanta, and he's got to stay in touch with the leaders. He needs to remain focused.
Carl Edwards: No championship backflips for him, yet
Greg Biffle has cooled off since his hot start to the Chase, but you can't count him out yet. He is still very much alive in this. Coming home in seventh place this weekend was just okay. They struggled with the car most of the night. But Edwards made up some ground and like I said earlier stayed in touch with Jimmie Johnson.
For Biffle, he just needs to avoid trouble and run up front, which he is highly capable of. This weekend will be key for them also. It's a short track, and anything can happen. Avoiding problems on pit road and on the track will be the key.
Greg Biffle: On standby
Jeff Burton has been right in this thing all year long. He's never fallen out of the top five in points. With his win on Saturday night, he put the field on notice that this was not just between Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. I said it last week: He needed to win to make that statement. He needs to continue that this weekend.
This is when being Jeff Burton is great. All he has to do is just wait for Jimmie to make a mistake and he has his chance. I think unlike this year the last couple weeks won't be such a cakewalk for Johnson because there are four other drivers who are within shouting distance to take the lead.
Jeff Burton: Making his charge
Jimmie Johnson led some laps but never made a statement at "His House." He finished in a distant sixth after trying to wrestle the lead from Burton on the last restart.
Jimmie needs to stay consistent and make no mistakes. He has the most to lose, and can't afford this late in the season to make silly mental errors.
I do think that he needs to keep an eye out on Jeff Burton. Jeff is not just going to hand this title over, he's gonna make Jimmie earn it, and that's how it should be.
Jimmie Johnson: Staying ahead of the field
Although guys like Gordon, Stewart and Harvick realistically don't have a shot at the championship, they are going to play spoiler, and two of them are still searching for wins.
For Gordon, this weekend is probably his best chance in the remaining races. Martinsville is another wild card. Anything can happen.
I have to give a shout out to Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Jamie McMurray. These three were the highest non-Chase drivers. I was impressed; two of them were Dodges. I hope this is a thing to come for those guys. They are good drivers who deserve the equipment to run up front.
With the season winding down, there is no room for patience. For too many drivers, too much is on the line. So watch tempers to flare this weekend. See you at Martinsville.
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