Several drivers headed into Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway with a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup on the line. Two notable drivers that improved their chances of being in the 12-man Chase were Kyle Busch and Mark Martin.
Busch headed into Bristol on the outside looking in, sitting in 15th-position, 70 points out of 12th. Martin, on the other hand came to Bristol in the top-12, but not by much. He was actually on the bubble in the 12th-position.
In the final laps, it was Busch and Martin duking it out for the win. Busch would come out on top to celebrate in victory lane as Martin drove to a runner-up finish.
"We made a lot of adjustments tonight, and that paid dividends," Busch said.
The two are tied with four wins apiece, the most of any driver this season on the Sprint Cup circuit, so if Martin remains in the top-12 through the next two races and Busch climbs in, depending on who wins the final two races before the Chase cutoff (Atlanta and Richmond), Busch and Martin could head into the 10-race Chase in a tie atop the standings.
"I'm having the time of my life," Martin said of his 2009 campaign.
After Bristol, Martin sits in 10th, 60 points inside the top-12. With the win, Busch climbed to 13th in points, just 34 points out of 12th.
"That guy sitting behind that steering wheel is the man," Busch's crew chief Steve Addington said.
Busch was grateful that Martin didn't utilize a "bump and run" maneuver on him as the two race side-by-side for much of the last couple of laps. He said that Martin was a "class act" and could have moved him for the win but didn't
According to Martin, he didn't move Busch, because he didn't think Busch would do that to him.
Marcos Ambrose, meanwhile, finished third for his best Sprint Cup finish on an oval. His previous best was a fourth scored at Talladega Superspeedway back in April.
"What am I doing here?" Ambrose asked in amazement after his third-place run. "I shouldn't be in this group!"
Greg Biffle finished fourth to move up two positions to eighth in points, giving himself I little more of a cushion for the next two races leading into the Chase. Denny Hamlin, who was already in a pretty safe position of fifth in points, finished the Sharpie 500 in the fifth position to move up to fourth.
On the other hand, the night didn't go so well for the drivers in the safe spots at or near the top of the standings.
Points leader Tony Stewart suffered radio problems early on and went a couple of laps down while fixing that problem. His troubles didn't end there, as he suffered from a battery issue later in the race. He wound up finishing 33rd.
Jeff Gordon, who came into Saturday night's race second in points never recovered from contact sustained somewhat early on and finished 23rd. For his troubles, Gordon slipped to third in the points standings, swapping positions with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished eighth.
Martin's, Gordon's, and Johnson's other teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the meantime, seems to be turning his season around. After scoring only his second top-five of the year last weekend with a third at Michigan International Speedway, he ran in the top-10 much of the latter half of the race and ended up ninth.