From the Marbles

Chase Rundown: Suddenly, Smoke is a factor

From The Marbles

The Chase is underway, and each week postrace we'll run down your favorite driver's day and his chances for snagging the Cup. With Chicagoland (at last) in the books, we begin:

1. Kevin Harvick (finished 2nd): Sometimes you're good, and sometimes you're just lucky. Harvick was a little of both on Monday afternoon, as nobody quite knew how much fuel he had and nobody knew whether he'd join the ranks of the unlucky in running out of gas. He didn't, and he's now your Chase points leader. Movement from start of Chase: No change.

2. Tony Stewart (finished 1st; -7 points): No better way to stomp all those "Is Stewart done?" storylines flat than to go out and win the very first race of the Chase. Stewart played it smart all day, running strong when he needed to and conservatively when he didn't. And now, thanks to the reset, all the "will he miss the Chase?" nonsense is history. Movement: Up 7.

3. Carl Edwards (finished 4th; -10 points): Yet again, Edwards runs a smart, under-the-radar race, and yet again he's rewarded with a solid finish. This is exactly the way you need to run the races you don't win, and Edwards' fuel tank could be a difference-maker down the line. Every race counts. Movement: Up 2.

4. Kurt Busch (finished 6th; -11 points): As usual, he was screaming his head off about one problem or another with his crew, and as usual, he turned an alleged hunk-of-junk car into a top-10 finisher. As with others around him, he managed to keep his head while others were losing theirs ... which may be the first time you've heard that said about Busch. Still, a solid run from one that could have been disastrous.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 3rd; -13 points): Well, well, well, lookie here. Critics of Junior are getting more shrill in their complaints about the 88, and you know the cries here will be that he only got a third-place finish because everyone else ran out of gas. Last time I checked, there are no asterisks for fuel-mileage runs. Movement: Up 4.

6. Brad Keselowski (finished 5th; -14 points): Any doubts about Keselowski being a legit Chase competitor should be long gone by now. He continued his impressive streak of races with a run that leaves him in the top half of the Chase. As with others, he was the beneficiary of other drivers' poor fuel planning, but hey, whatever gets you there. Movement: Up 3.

7. Ryan Newman (finished 8th; -14 points): It's a good day when both you and the boss run well, and although Newman ran out of gas on the last lap, he's still got to take heart that the guy signing his paychecks will be in a good mood. Still, Newman could have used a better finish than this against a tough Chase field. Movement: Down 2.

8. Jimmie Johnson (finished 10th; -16 points): Perhaps the biggest shock of the race came in the fact that Jimmie Johnson had this one in his hands and lost it. For much of the race, he appeared to be the class of the field, and the cries of "six-time" began in earnest. Now? Not so much. He could still win, but it'll be more of a climb than he wanted. Movement: Down 3.

9. Kyle Busch (finished 22nd; -19 points): His empty tank at the end of the race was a devastating blow. A top-10 finish turned into a 22nd, and Busch now finds himself with work to do just to get back within sight of the leaders. He's got the talent to win every week, but clearly, so do many of these other guys.  Movement: Down 8.

10. Matt Kenseth (finished 21st; -24 points): Funny how things can all come undone in just one lap. Kenseth had the strongest car for much of the race, but he ran out of gas and then took an unfortunately-timed push from JJ Yeley. The penalty for that assistance dropped Kenseth even farther in the standings. Thanks for the help, dude. Movement: Down 4.

11. Jeff Gordon (finished 24th; -25 points): So close, so close to being a salvageable afternoon for the man many have picked to dethrone Johnson. He'd fought his way back into the top 10 even after having problems with pretty much every element of the car, but ran out of fuel and ended up in (ah, sad irony) 24th. Movement: Down 7.

12. Denny Hamlin (finished 31st; -41 points): Hey, thanks for giving it a go, Denny. Troubles right from the start hampered Hamlin's attempts to move upward through the field, and finally stumbled onto pit road late in the race during a green-flag stop. This sure looks like it isn't Hamlin's year. Movement: No change.

Your turn. Who helped their Chase chances this race, and who killed 'em?

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