Ford 400

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

How the race was won

Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards

Edwards Edwards led the most laps, but for the second time in three weeks won by stretching the final fuel run. While most of the field had to pit one final time, Edwards milked his gas tank for all it was worth. When he did it at Texas, you could have called it luck. But doing it again makes it a pattern.

Story of the race

Jimmie, Jimmie, Jimmie: Jimmie Johnson etched his name alongside Cale Yarborough's in the NASCAR history books by winning his third straight championship. Johnson won this year's title with a 5.7 average finish in the Chase. It wasn't an easy defense considering that Edwards won three of the last four races. This just shows that when the competition steps up its game, Johnson has the ability to do everyone one better.

Looking ahead

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

Who will be the favorite entering 2009? Obviously Johnson's name is at the top of the list. But I expect him to get stiff challenges from both Edwards and Kyle Busch.

If not for a fluke ignition box problem at Charlotte or his own boneheaded move that wrecked him at Talladega, Edwards would have taken this championship battle down to the wire. He knows where he made his mistakes and he will be better next season, which is saying something.

As for Busch, clearly he has the talent. Now all he needs is the mental maturity. Hopefully he gained some of that in a tough Chase in which the wheels fell off his championship run almost immediately. Remember, he's only 23.

Others to watch out for are Kevin Harvick, if Richard Childress Racing can find speed, and Denny Hamlin, if he can find consistency.

We've said it before

AJ Allmendinger will have a ride in 2009. He ended the season on a high note, finishing 11th at Homestead-Miami. Hearing there could be a surprise ride opening up in the next few weeks with Allmendinger's name on it. And it wouldn't be a complete shocker if he wound up back at Red Bull – taking back his spot from Scott Speed.

Grading the race

We're sick of saying it, so we'll skip the same old follow-the-leader talk at the 1.5-mile tracks. Instead, we'll highlight the fact that fuel mileage is becoming more and more of a factor in who wins races on the intermediate tracks. Because the cars are so spread out, whoever's up front can afford to back down on the gas and hope to make it on one less pit stop because typically they've built such a sizeable lead. It makes for a tense finish, but does lack action. Grade: C

From the source

Rick Hendrick: "[Winning championships is] definitely harder now. I'm not taking anything away from the four in a row, because Jeff [Gordon], three out of four years, and Terry [Labonte] won one. Everybody working together, it was really good back then. But we had a lot more flexibility. The teams could flex more of their talent to try to get an edge on the competition today. It's just so much harder and so many more, you know, quality guys driving. Again, not taking anything away from those years, but this is a tougher deal."

Chad Knaus: "I've been fortunate to work with really great race car drivers. I worked with Jeff Gordon in the 24 car. I've seen what Jeff can do with a race car and I've got a lot of respect for what Jeff can do. To be able to work with Jimmie, he's definitely brought it to a new level. … In my eyes, he's the best that there's been."