Well the drivers headed to Atlanta to race under the lights, where the speeds are quicker and the drama is heightened. Racing is back on Labor Day weekend in the south, and the Sprint Cup boys rolled into Atlanta with a lot on the line.
Check out this week’s winners and losers.
Kasey Kahne has been in this position before. Two races before the Chase starts and he is just hanging on, just on the outside. Last year Kahne failed to make the Chase after a string of bad races made him the first driver with multiple wins looking in on the Chase last year.
This year Kahne is sitting in a better position than last, but the standings are so close he needed to come home with a solid finish just to keep pace. He had a good car, started on the outside pole and stayed near the front all night long.
They struggled with the handling but Kahne was good on the short runs. He could pull away for 10-15 laps and that’s exactly what it came down to after a late caution. Kahne took the lead and never gave it back earning his second victory of the year.
This win catapulted him in the standings as his fellow contenders for a Chase spot struggled. Kahne now just needs to survive at Richmond and he will be there.
Strange stat: Kahne has won more races in the last two seasons than Jeff Gordon; four to one.
Kevin Harvick must love Atlanta. After dominating the Nationwide race, Saturday night, Harvick came out and almost stole the show. This following a dismal year in 2009.
Starting in 18th on Sunday night, the team struggled early with the handling and pit stops. Harvick though, was able to run the bottom better than anyone out there. He made most of his time up on the bottom of the track, while others searched around the top.
Harvick was good on the long runs. It was evident when he would fall back early on in the run, but charge back up to the front. He had the lead and his sights on the win before a late caution, as teammate Clint Bowyer spun out.
Harvick's engine was overheating. A caution was the last thing he needed. Kahne was able to pass him on the restart and Harvick had to settle for second. Overall though this was a solid run and a positive sign for this team.
This is the first time in a long time that they were competitive start to finish in a race and the most laps Harvick had led for since Las Vegas in the spring.
A year ago a finish like this would have been surprising, but David Reutimann had a strong car on Sunday night. The only surprise is that mathematically he could make the Chase.
Reutimann's night was a bit of a roller coaster, having more ups than downs though. He like a lot of other teams struggled with a finicky race car. The team made good adjustments to the race car and they were able to take advantage of solid pit stops and good track position.
Reutimann's late charge earned him a fourth place finish after starting in 28th. The speed was there for the team. They were able to work on the car and get it better as the night wore on.
Reutimann still has a fighting chance to make the chase, should the drivers in front of him struggle. If he has a repeat performace, or better, he could make the chase.
Nicknamed “The Franchise,” Reutimann was looking like it tonight, driving his way to the front.
For Carl Edwards tonight didn’t go as planned, he hoped to be pulling into victory lane for Jody
Edwards also could have clinched it, but now has to be worried heading into Richmond.
The night started off well as Edwards moved forward, running in the top 10. They were having solid pit stops until smoke started coming from under the hood. The liquid they were dropping brought out the caution and forced them to pit.
The team lifted the hood and a piece of debris that punctured a hole in the radiator meant they returned 20 laps down after heading to the garage. Edwards finished 37th.
Edwards needs a win, but should make the chase. Going in without a win will hurt this team when it comes to seeding.
Atlanta was one of his best chances to finally notch that win and instead he was logging laps and trying to collect as many points as possible.
The story leading up to the green flag was Edwards' broken foot. Edwards was hoping the story would be a win.
It has been a rough couple weeks for Kurt Busch. Busch downright dominated the race here in the spring leading over 250 laps. Surprisingly the team used the same setups from spring, although the conditions were drastically different.
Busch was never a factor. He started from sixth, but the team was unable to adjust the car and make it better. He fell back early. He was on the lead lap until he and Reed Sorenson tagged. Busch hit the wall hard, sending him to the garage and out contention. He finished 38th.
Busch had already slipped back in the standings in recent weeks. He was sitting fourth in the standings just one month ago. Now he is sitting just over 100 points in front of 13th which means Busch can’t have any issues coming into Richmond.
Maybe Busch is getting the bad luck out of the way, two races before the Chase. Yep that’s what he's doing.
Bowyer had an outside chance of making the chase, but his run at Bristol really hurt his chances. He slipped further behind Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers and more importantly Matt Kenseth in 12th.
He needed a strong finish just to even have a chance at Richmond. It didn’t happen.
After a poor qualifying lap he sat at the back of the pack and were lapped early. The setup was completely wrong. The team were unable to make the adjustments on the car. While long green runs meant many cars went a lap down, Bowyer never made up any ground.
They finished 29th.
Bowyer spun out late and caused the final caution of the race, systematically bringing teammate Harvick back to the field after he had pulled away. Bowyer though was RCR's only hope to make the chase. They now have to wait until next year.
No need for the media to hunt Bowyer down, Bowyer had left the building, quickly.
Kenseth was sitting 12th in the standings and barely hanging on to the final position for the playoffs.
Early on it didn’t look good as the car was wicked loose, hitting the wall hard and causing damage to the quarter panel.
The team needed a caution to come in and fix the damage to the car. They got a break with early cautions and were able to tape the car back together.
Slowly but surely the team made up ground and positions. They found themselves racing in the top before the day was over. They finished 12th. Kenseth could not afford to have a poor finish and he was able to rebound from a rough start.
If they make the Chase, Atlanta will be the race they look back on and realize just how close they came to missing it.
That was a pretty good race out there on Sunday. We saw tons of passing and great battles all the way to the checkered flag. Drivers were able to use the pit road to their advantage and take the lead while others lost the lead because of the pit road. Overall it was a great race, one of the better races this year.
It was also nice to see the stands packed. It wasn’t a sell out, but pretty close. NASCAR fans love racing on Labor Day weekend and they love racing in the south on Labor Day weekend.
It didn’t hurt that for the first time since the inception of the Chase only three drivers were locked in going into Atlanta.
The standings are the closest they have ever been at this point. Atlanta paved the way for what is guaranteed to be a showdown next weekend at Richmond.
Richmond is shaping up to come down to the checker for the setup for the Chase this year. This is exactly what NASCAR needs to help promote the chase during the kickoff weekend of football.
Richmond has turned out to be the most important race of the year for every driver first through 15th. Some drivers will be fighting for wins and bonus points. Others will be fighting for the season.
See you in Richmond.