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Chase Watch: Johnson plummets after wreck

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship just got real interesting after Jimmie Johnson wrecked out of Saturday night's Bank of America 500, putting the five-time defending champ in a hole that he may not be able to climb out of.

Here is how the Chase field fared in Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

1. Carl Edwards – Finished 3rd: Edwards was nervous going into Saturday night's race, wondering if this would be the one to trip up his title hopes. He left having extended his points lead and, more importantly, doesn't have Johnson breathing down his neck. (-)

2. Kevin Harvick – Finished 6th: Once again, Harvick turned in a wholly anonymous top-10 finish. He has said he needs to win a race to win a title, and that may just be true. Still, 10 consistent runs without an error would be better than a win. (5 points)

3. Matt Kenseth – Finished 1st: He has flown under the radar, mostly because he's Kenseth – quiet, unassuming Kenseth. Not so much anymore. He didn't lead a lot of laps, but it was clear his car was the class of the field. He is definitely a player now. (-7 points)

4. Kyle Busch – Finished 2nd: Busch never has been a factor this far into the Chase. Still, to challenge the drivers ahead of him he needs wins. He almost got it Saturday night. Almost. Busch still never has won a Chase race as a Chase contender. (-18 points)

5. Tony Stewart – Finished 8th: The rap on Stewart after winning the first two Chase races was that, yes he had won, but he'd done it on fuel, not speed. We're seeing that play out now. Stewart is good but doesn't have the speed to keep up with the front runners. (-24 points)

6. Brad Keselowski – Finished 16th: A small victory after struggling early in the race. (-25 points)

7. Kurt Busch – Finished 13th: Second straight 13th-place finish for Kurt Busch, who was his usual none-too-jovial self over the radio. If crew chief Steve Addington isn't leaving after the season, he deserves a medal for dealing with Busch's attitude on a weekly basis. (-27 points)

8. Jimmie Johnson – Finished 34th: For five years, Johnson has been mostly mistake free. He finally flinched. Perhaps racing Ryan Newman a little too aggressively, Johnson lost control of his car with fewer than 20 laps to go and slammed nose first into the wall. He has been down before and came back to win. This Chase either will be his greatest triumph or the one where his reign finally comes to an end. (-35 points)

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 19th: A loose wheel forced Junior to come in for an unscheduled pit stop. If his title hopes weren't done before, they are now. It's all about getting a win now, and lo and behold, Talladega is on deck. (-60 points)

10. Ryan Newman – Finished 10th: Did Newman race Johnson too hard? Or was Johnson too aggressive? Depends on who you ask. (-61 points)

11. Jeff Gordon – Finished 21st: Started out terrible, rallied into the top 10, then got spun when David Ragan got into Kasey Kahne. That momentum he had going into the Chase is but a distant memory now. (-66 points)

12. Denny Hamlin – Finished 9th: Five races in and Hamlin finally posts a top-10 finish in the Chase. That pretty much sums it up. (-86 points)

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