In the season's first race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the 12 Chase drivers all finished in the top 13. On Sunday, the second race of the Chase, the stranglehold at the front of the field loosened just a little bit.
This time, all 12 Chase drivers finished in the top 18, including in the first seven positions. However, six of those seven drivers at the front were the top six entering Sunday's race. And the drivers that finished in 17th and 18th were Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr., who were in 8th and 9th place after Chicago, respectively.
So that means the Chase right now is essentially divided into a top half and a bottom half. None of the bottom half are out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but if the drivers in that top half continue to clog the top 10, well, there won't be any room to make up any ground.
1. Jimmie Johnson 2096 points, (2nd place on Sunday): Johnson did exactly what he needed to do to blunt Hamlin's gain from Sunday's victory, finishing second and getting a lap led bonus point. He's at the top of the heap heading into Dover, where he's won four of the last seven races.
2. Brad Keselowski, 2095 points, (6th place): Yeah, Keselowski lost the points lead to Johnson, but crew chief Paul Wolfe's decision to take two tires on the team's final pit stop meant that the the team went from 10th to fourth after the stops cycled through. It's a decision that could loom large later in the year.
3. Denny Hamlin 2089 points, (1st place): With Sunday's win, Hamlin gained eight points and one spot in the standings on the points lead. Now, his next task is to maintain the gap between he and Johnson at Dover, where Hamlin's last three finishes are 16th, 18th and 19th.
4. Tony Stewart, 2086 points (7th place): After starting third, Smoke darted to the lead early, but faded to the back of the top 10 after the race's competition caution at lap 40. He crept back into the top 5 for a few brief moments and made up two spots after pitting during the race's final caution flag.
5. Kasey Kahne, 2081 points (5th place): Kahne finished a spot ahead of where he qualified and almost exactly where he ran most of the day. It was an appropriate result and enough to maintain his gap to first place.
6. Clint Bowyer, 2081 points (4th place): Rawhide's car went from too loose to too tight over the course of the race and felt he didn't have enough rear grip to contend for the win. But like Kahne, he hung around the top five all day and stayed tied with him.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr, 2070 points (13th place): Junior ran around the back of the top 20 for most of the day and was close to going a lap down when two of the race's debris cautions came. Like Keselowski, Junior and Letarte took two tires on the final green flag, which gave Junior a couple spots of track position.
8. Kevin Harvick, 2065 points (11th place): Harvick was solidly around 10th for most of the day, typically a "good points day." However, it's notsomuch of one when you lose seven points to the points lead.
9. Biffle, 2063 points (18th place): Where were the Roush cars? Biffle wasn't a factor all day, though the racing that he had with Truex late in Sunday's race was some of the closest and most compelling all day.
10. Truex, 2062 points (17th place): Truex hung around with teammate Bowyer for the early stages of the race, but faded late. And it was a costly fade too, as Truex lost 13 points to the top spot.
11. Matt Kenseth, 2061 points (14th place): Flatline's Zestfully clean car was Zestfully not in contention for the win. He stayed out to lead a lap during two green flag pit stop cycles. Woo!
12. Jeff Gordon, 2051 points (3rd place): Here starts Gordon's march back into title contention! What? He only made up two points on the points lead? Yeah, it stings when the guy you're trying to make up acres of space on finishes second.