Tony Stewart continues his reign at the top of the Nextel Chase for the Cup while some of the competition is slowly slipping into oblivion. Someone bling Kurt Busch and tell him it's time to hang up the dream of winning back-to-back titles. Three finishes of 14th or worse in the playoffs have taken Driver 97 out of contention.
Ryan Newman, who had come within four points of Stewart, also slips greatly after an early crash at Kansas caused damage on the No. 12 Dodge. While Newman remains second he now trails Stewart by 75 points.
1. Tony Stewart: Leader, Finished 7th
Battery problems mired Stewart in the read of the field mid-race but worked his way back to fourth by lap 124. Solid top-ten run for the No. 20 Home Depot Chevy.
"Yeah, that was not too bad for a car that was just a little off," Stewart said. "We had a setback in the practice session the other day and that got us off a little bit. But the guys rebounded really well. We lost an alternator belt early and that made us have to turn all the electrical switches off -- all the brake fans and the rear end fans and the fans that blow cool air on the tires to keep the tires cool. It hurt us because it lets it build air pressure a little quicker."
2. Ryan Newman: Finished 23rd (-75)
Qualified well but was forced to start at the rear of the field after changing transmissions on the No. 12 Dodge. Newman got caught up in a lap- 17 accident with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. causing heavy damage on his left rear fender.
"That's definitely not the finish we wanted today," Newman said. "We just couldn't get a handle on the Alltel Dodge. Starting in the back hurt us. Then we got in that early accident which damaged the left front pretty good. Being stuck back there all day in dirty air just worked against us.
We had a top-five finish at Charlotte earlier this year, so hopefully we'll turn this performance around next weekend. We're still in the hunt for the title, so we'll just put this behind us."
3. Greg Biffle: Finished 2nd (-88)
Grabbed the lead of the event on lap 73 but just didn't have the juice to make the pass on teammate Martin in the races closing laps.
"We were pretty confident coming I here and we're still confident that we'll be able to make our way towards the front," said Biffle. " It just depends on what the 20 does. If he passes all his stuff and nothing happens, it's tough when you only two spots in front of him to gain any points."
4. Rusty Wallace: Finished 7th (-90)
Had a bad pit stop after a lap 17 wreck brought out the caution forcing the No. 2 Dodge to restart 35th on lap 20. Worked the No. 2 Dodge back up to a top-ten finish.
"It was a good run, a real good run," Wallace said. "We qualified really bad but got from the back up to the front and it turned out real good. It was just a long day, but I really had pretty smooth stuff all day long, only a couple of little things happened. The jack broke early but we got that right back. And then, at the end, I just, the lapped cars were really tough to get around on the get go and that got me way behind. Other than that, it was a good day."
5. Jimmie Johnson: Finished 6th (-92)
Team 48 scored a top-ten finish, which is just what this team needed after a miserable weekend in Talladega. Johnson was blamed (and, rightly so) for causing two multi-car incidents last weekend and took a hard hit in points.
"It was a solid day for us," Johnson commented. "It was something we really needed to do. We needed to get a good strong effort in. I wish we could have finished a little better. Every point counts at this point and everybody in front of me, really, was in the Chase. So it's going to be a dogfight all the way to Homestead."
6. Carl Edwards: Finished 3rd (-95)
Best performance in a Chase race for the No. 99 Ford.
"The Office Depot Ford was really that good," said Edwards. "Man, it's kind of strange to be disappointed about a third-place finish. I really wanted to win here in front of what I consider a hometown crowd. It's cool to see this many folks here and how much support we've got. But third place is awesome. Mark Martin won and Greg Biffle was second, so congratulations to those guys. It was a great day. That last restart got me. I tried some stuff on the top and if I would have stuck to the bottom we might have had something for them."
7. Mark Martin: Winner! (-113)
"My thoughts on the championship are they probably slipped out of my hands last week, but winning is great," Martin explained. "Leading the most laps and winning probably puts us back close, but it's gonna be a lot harder now than it was gonna be if we could have finished in the top 10 at Talladega."
8. Matt Kenseth: Finished 5th
Polesitter led the race until lap 73 when teammate Greg Biffle took that position away. Kenseth began dropping through the top ten complaining of a rear tire vibration on the No. 17 Ford. Kenseth luckily got a caution flag on lap 93 preventing the team from having to make a green flag stop.
Savvy pit strategy grabbed this team a top-five result.
"We didn't really run as good as I expected today, we just got real tight," said Kenseth. "We couldn't fix it a little bit like our Busch car, so we've got to be real happy. We had the pole and finished fifth and that was cool that Mark and those guys won. I would have liked to have run a little bit better than we did, but overall it was a good day."
9. Jeremy Mayfield: Finished 16th (-157)
Another cool quiet eventless run for the No. 19 Dodge.
"We had a better car than the finish indicates," Mayfield explained. "We ran in the top five throughout the first half of the race. The car was better on long runs with one exception which just happened to be one of the few long green-flag cycles. It was one of those days when we had a 13.6- second pit stop and lost four spots on pit road. We had something like 50 laps left when we made our final stop and thought we would pick up some spots and even get back in the top 10 if the race stayed green. We restarted 18th, but our car was sluggish on restarts, needing four or five laps to get going. All of the cars on the lead lap got around us those first few laps and we were all the way back in 25th-place before we got the Dodge Charger rolling. I was able to get back to 16th but we had much greater expectations. We had a car capable of winning and definitely running in the top five. Looking at it that way, it was a disappointing finish. But we were running at the end, so we'll take it and go to Charlotte looking for better results."
10. Kurt Busch: Finished 14th (-224)
Busch was running second when he had to make an unscheduled green flag pit stop for four tires on lap 80. Busch was forced to restart 39th a lap down. Kansas pretty much seals the deal on this team; it would be virtually impossible for them to dig their way out of the point deficit they have accrued to win the championship.
**Busch was unavailable for comment post race.
ON THE BUBBLE:
11-12-and 13th are separated by just one point. Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Elliott Sadler are in a heated match to claim the last spot on the stage for the Cup banquet in New York in December.
Harvick sits 11th with 3,417
McMurray is 12th, 3416
Sadler, 13th with 3415