Matt Kenseth's stock continues to go up, but the championship hopes of Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne are circling the drain. And the door for Kyle Busch has slammed shut completely. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jeff...
Matt Kenseth's stock continues to go up, but the championship hopes of Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne are circling the drain. And the door for Kyle Busch has slammed shut completely.
Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jeff Burton sit in striking distance of the leader with just 84 points separating the top five. In the gray area are Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon who would both need some extremely advantageous scenario to get back into the thick of the hunt.
By the numbers:
1. Matt Kenseth (Leader)
Started on the pole but failed to lead the first lap. He ran a solid race finishing fourth.
"I feel good coming out of here being the points leader," said Kenseth. "I'd feel better if we had more of a gap."
2. Jimmie Johnson (-26)
Johnson ran a drama free race and grabbed second. It may be déjà vu for Johnson who has been second in the Chase all three years exiting the Atlanta race.
"I feel great about it," Johnson said of his point position. "It is going to come down to luck and who can out squirrel each other on the race track."
3. Denny Hamlin (-65)
Hamlin had to get a lucky dog to get back on the lead lap and then furthered his chances when he gained track position on pit stops after a lap 290 caution by taking just two-tires. He finished eighth.
"Rookie stripes really came into effect today," Hamlin commented. "I felt I was uncomfortable the entire time during the race but still came home eighth. That's good. I debated whether to take any tires at the end but Mike (Ford, crew chief) made a good choice and took two."
4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-84)
He took the lead on lap nine and led until he was passed on lap 23 by Tony Stewart. On lap 29 he developed a vibration and was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop under green, losing a lap.
He got his lap back, and a well placed caution helped him get back on the lead-stop pit sequence. He led 95 laps and finished third.
"I was the only one that didn't pit," Earnhardt explained. "I just made the decision not to, I wanted to get the tires if they did, but they were doing everything, swapping and carrying on getting to pit road. So, I kind of got left out there. We hung on and I don't think we'd of run third if we hadn't stayed out."
5. Jeff Burton (-84)
He had to make an unscheduled green flag pit stop on lap 280 to fix a tire rub, he made a little bit of contact with the wall but rallied back to earn 13th.
"For whatever reason they put a new set of tires on and chunked the right rear and it wouldn't, didn't handle at all," Burton complained. "We lost all our track position and then put a set of tires on and it drove great. I drove it in the wall and cut a tire and I got us behind again, but we were going to be okay and they threw the caution for a piece of roll bar."
6. Kevin Harvick (-121)
An ill-handling race car placed Harvick a lap down by the mid-point of the event. The car never improved and he wound up several laps down in 31rst.
7. Jeff Gordon (-146) He was leading on lap 169 when Jamie McMurray smacked into the back of him. He made five pit stops to repair the damage on his car and restarted in 14th. He wheeled his way back to a sixth place result.
"It was an eventful day for us," Gordon commented. "What an awesome race car we had in our DuPont/Nicorette Chevrolet. I had a lot of fun there at the beginning. I came up on Joe Nemechek, I was going to the outside and he moved down and he just got super loose and came up in to me. There was nowhere I could go. After that we were fighting the handling and cut a tire and Jamie McMurray got in to the back of us. I don't blame him, he couldn't see anything going in to one with the sun at the angle that it was. It was blind corner going in there. We are pretty fortunate to come back and finish sixth."
8. Mark Martin (-201)
Martin's championship hopes ended after a lap 309 wreck mangled the No. 6 Roush Ford. He ended his day in 36th.
"I don't know," said Martin. "I'm just happy that we're running good. I'm proud of the AAA team and I want to thank all the fans for cheering so loud. We're fighting and scrapping for it. We've got three more races and we'll keep doing what we are doing."
9. Kasey Kahne (-210)
He ran in the top-10 most of the day but was the sixth caution on lap 248 when he made contact with David Stremme and smacked the wall, resulting in a 38th place finish.
"Error by the driver," confessed Kahne. "I knew he was there and then I forgot he was there and I just ran over him."
10. Kyle Busch (-249)
Busch started 10th but spun the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy on the fourth lap. He was able to continue on and finish 27th.