Earnhardt Jr grabs 'Chase' lead

The third race of the Chase for the championship further shook out who the top contenders are for the NEXTEL Cup. Elliott Sadler and Jimmie Johnson emerge worse for wear after a luckless day for both racers, as they both slide toward the bottom of...

The third race of the Chase for the championship further shook out who the top contenders are for the NEXTEL Cup. Elliott Sadler and Jimmie Johnson emerge worse for wear after a luckless day for both racers, as they both slide toward the bottom of series standings; meanwhile Dale Earnhardt, Jr. regains his spot atop the point's grid with his win at Talladega Superspeedway.

1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt's fourteenth career win send him to first in NEXTEL Cup points. Earnhardt entered Talladega third in standings, but exits with a 13 point advantage over the field.

"That's five wins this year!" Earnhardt commented. "I just can't believe it."

2. Kurt Busch: Busch's solid top five finish moves him up on spot to second in standings.

"We just have to work like we do each week," said Busch. "I don't really know what the feeling needs to be after the third race. Is it any different than after the first or second?

"No, but we've survived three races and we've got seven to go."

3. Jeff Gordon: Gordon ran at the front of the field most of the day, and at times looked like he had a shot at giving Earnhardt a run for his money, but he was involved in an incident with Scott Wimmer as they tried to approach pit road. He wound up 19th which slips him from first to third in points.

"That's why you love and you hate this place because it can give you a great day like it did with Junior, or you can be back here and the next thing you know you can be in a wreck with five to go at the back of the pack," said Gordon. "It was unfortunate for us. We had a great car."

He trails Earnhardt by 61 markers.

4. Mark Martin: Martin avoided the wrecks and brought the No. 6 Ford home 15th. Good enough to move him up one rung from fifth to fourth, 111 points short of first.

"I don't think that was a great race," Martin commented. "It might have been a great show, but we could have been doing that on a figure-eight or a demo derby there."

5. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth handed in a 14th place performance, moving him from seventh to fifth in championship rankings. He sits 150 points shy of leader Earnhardt.

"I was back there three-wide and getting hit and hitting people," Kenseth said. "Everybody was bouncing off everybody. It's kind of stupid really. I know it's fun to watch but it's kind of a bad situation when you're sitting in it."

6. Tony Stewart: Stewart never seemed to get the No. 20 Gibbs Chevy into fine form Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. Stewart ran at the rear during the races initial 60 laps.

At lap 60, he over shot his pit stall, having to throw the car into reverse which damaged the transmission. Stewart fell to 40th place, but whatever problems the No. 20 had, they seemed to cure themselves mid race as Stewart climbed the No. 20 back into the top ten by the closing laps of the race.

"Considering everything we had going on today," said Stewart. "This is like a win for us."

Stewart finished sixth, and moves from ninth to sixth in rankings, 152 points out.

7. Ryan Newman: Newman looked lackluster at the beginning of the race, running at the back of the pack. But the No. 12 crew adjusted on the car, and got the Dodge more to Newman's liking and he fought his way back to a 16th place result.

"The driver got a little greedy trying to do a gas and go, and that cost us a bunch of track position," Newman commented. "It's just stupid racing here at Talladega. That's pretty much it. We tried to play it smart. There wasn't really a big crash, but there were a lot of potential big crashes. The car was all right, but you've got all of 'em running the same speed, so it was kinda hard to pass.

"It was an OK points day. We needed to win, but we'll take what we got. We finished and that's the good thing. I'm ready for any place besides here."

Newman moves up on spot from eighth to seventh, 159 points out of first.

8. Elliott Sadler: Sadler started Sunday's event with a power-house car that ran in the top five, and competed for the lead during the races first 50 laps. Battery problems struck the No. 38 team at lap 60, forcing Sadler to make a second pit stop to change batteries; dropping him from the top five to 34th.

Troubles did not end there for Team Yates; they had overheating problems and had to change the battery for a third time on lap 121. Lap 144, water temperature problems saw the hood come up on the No. 38 Ford, and the hits just kept on coming.

On the races final lap, Sadler was bumped out of line sending him nose over tail into the infield grass.

"I'm not saying we're out of it," said Sadler. "We need to regroup."

He finished 22nd.

9. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson looked poised to win the EA Sports 500, until a round of pit stops after a yellow flag on lap 121. Johnson made contact with the No. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne exiting his pit stall, crunching his right front.

The team had to make an additional stop to make repairs to the No. 48 Chevy. Johnson restarted in 34th, the last car on the lead lap. Johnson clawed his way back into the top five by lap 144, but with 20 laps to go, the No. 48 cracked a head and retired to the garage.

"Not sure what caused it, maybe the contact on pit road," commented Johnson. "We'll just have to come back next weekend and try and get maximum points."

He finished 37th, and falls from fourth to ninth in standings, 172 points away from the top spot.

10. Jeremy Mayfield: A bad day got worse for Mayfield on lap 144. Mayfield's car ran poorly all afternoon, but on lap 144, contact between the No. 43 of Jeff Green and the No. 02 of Hermie Sadler caught Mayfield in the middle, trashing the No. 19 Dodge.

"I'm not sure what happened to the 43," said Mayfield. "Somebody must have turned him because he turned right in front of us. We were just sticking to our game plan, that was to either be up front or stay in the back to the end. That's what we were doing. What do you do? You can't really predict what's going to happen here. We fixed our Dodge and got back out and gained all the points we could.

"We've had a good year so far. We've just got to keep fighting back and do the best we can. We knew Talladega was going to be a weird race for us, but who knows what's going to happen. We've just got to keep fighting. We're doing all we can do. We're just going to try to go win races now. That's about all that's left to do."

Mayfield finished 38th, and stays tenth in points, 280 points from first.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Hermie Sadler , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin