Everyone in NASCAR knew coming into the weekend that Talladega posed the greatest challenge to drivers' title hopes, and from that perspective, the Good Sam's 500 didin't disappoint ... provided you weren't a fan of those drivers. Several teams this weekend all but officially saw their Cup dreams fade into the haze of campfire smoke hanging over the track.
Here's how the Chase contenders finished the race, and where they stand now in the hunt for the Cup.
1. Carl Edwards — Finished 11th.
Edwards continues his streak of respectable finishes, and in this case he succeeded simply by staying out of trouble. He could have gone for the win a bit earlier, but he's nearly tripled his points lead, so he's not complaining.
2. Matt Kenseth — Finished 18th.
Like Edwards, Kenseth gets out of Talladega unscathed and manages to keep his Chase hopes alive. He's a little farther back than he'd like, but he's well within striking distance of his Roush teammate. (-14)
3. Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th.
Keselowski had the best performance of the race of any Chaser, and this could end up being a critical one in the unlikeliest championship run in decades. Talladega was the site of Keselowski's first win; could it be the site where he took a firm step toward his first Cup? (-18)
4. Tony Stewart — Finished 7th.
Well, well, well. After winning the first two races and then falling flat in the next three, look who's back in the mix. Stewart now has a legitimate chance once again at a Cup; one misfire by Edwards and Stewart is in the lead pack. He seems to have regained his footing after his recent stumbles. (-19)
5. Kevin Harvick — Finished 32nd.
And now it starts to get tricky. This far back, Harvick is going to need some serious mojo and luck to get back into this Chase. Who would have thought that Harvick and Kyle Busch, so long rivals, would get taken out of the Chase in the same wreck? (-26)
6. Kyle Busch — Finished 33rd.
Not Kyle's day, not at all. The damage to his car in the mid-race wreck was too severe, and he now sits almost a full race behind Edwards. Time to start looking to 2012. (-40)
7. Jimmie Johnson — Finished 26th.
The reign of Five-Time comes to an end. Not officially, of course, but Johnson is now more than a full race behind Edwards. Making up 50 points is going to be tough to do for anyone, even the 48 team. We'll eulogize them later. (-50)
8. Kurt Busch — Finished 36th.
A wreck with Bobby Labonte pretty much demolished the last of the 22 car's hopes this season. He runs hot or cold, no in-between, and now all that's left is to try to stay in the hunt for Vegas. (-52)
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 25th.
Did Earnhardt and Johnson wait too long to make a move at the end? Almost certainly. Would it have made a difference in the race results? Perhaps, perhaps not. Regardless, Junior's Chase, while a success, is not going to be a shining beacon of excellence. (-74)
10. Jeff Gordon — Finished 27th.
This is the power of the two-car draft: Gordon was in position to go for the lead on the final restart, and finished in the back half of the field. His betrayal by Trevor Bayne was downright Shakespearean. (-82)
11. Denny Hamlin — Finished 8th.
Hey, he's out of 12th place. That's something, right? (-84)
12. Ryan Newman — Finished 38th.
Ryan Newman hates Talladega, hates it with the burning fury of a thousand suns. And this weekend will do nothing to help his mood. At least it was his boss who spun him; maybe he can parlay that into a nicer Christmas bonus. (-88)
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