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Post-Darlington driver reports

NASCAR.com

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 423 points.
Last week: Johnson was in position to challenge for a win at Darlington -- he was, after all, the defending race champion -- throughout Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500. Johnson was second on the grid, and while he could never catch the leader, he was in the top five for nearly the entire evening in his emerald green-trimmed No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson lost position during a run of late cautions, but gained ground over the final laps to finish fourth. It's Johnson's sixth top-five in 11 races and third in his past five races.
What he said: "It was just a great 500 miles here at Darlington. There is nothing easy about this race track. It keeps you on your toes all night long. ? I love this place. I wish we could race here three or four times a year."
This week: In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson ranks third out of 37 drivers with an average place of 6.9. He is the defending All-Star Race champion. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Johnson thrived under a new format, using both a fast car and solid strategy to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Johnson won the first of four segments, guaranteeing he'd lead the field into pit road after the four 20-lap segments, just before the 10-lap sprint to the start/finish line. With that first spot locked up, Five-Time drifted to the back for the final three 20-lap sessions to protect his car. In the race off pit road following 80 laps, Johnson was first. He then shot away from the pack to easily win and collect the $1 million prize.

2. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is second in the standings with 379 points.
Last week: It appears a trend is developing with Edwards this year. For not the first time this year, Edwards was a blip on the screen, not running in the top 10, but not falling too far down the field. His ability to close has rocketed him up to second place in the standings, a spot he's held for three consecutive weeks. Edwards, during a series of late pit stops, gained spots every time and guided his No. 99 Ford to a seventh-place finish.
What he said: "We struggled a lot tonight and we ended up coming back to seventh, so I'm proud of our effort. But it's like (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and I talked about, we're just missing something."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Edwards ranks 12th of 39 drivers with an average place of 7.7. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Edwards ranks 14th of 37 drivers with an average place of 10.8. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: The defending race winner, Edwards had a disheartening experience in last year's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Following the mandatory pit stop after the first 20-lap segment, Edwards was in 10th position for the second session. Just five laps in, though, his engine blew up, sending him into the garage for the night.

3. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is third in the standings with 364 points.
Last week: Kenseth was having a phenomenal week before he even left for Darlington. Throw in a win in the Bojangles' Southern 500, and it seems like something special is brewing for the No. 20 driver. First, an appeals panel overturned some of NASCAR's sanctions on Kenseth -- including docking him 12 points instead of 50, giving Kenseth a 38-point boost. Then Kenseth went out and passed teammate Kyle Busch, who led 265 laps, late Saturday night and held on to win. Eleventh place in the standings entering this week, Kenseth is now third and leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with three wins.
What he said: "Honestly, I've only dreamed about winning the Southern 500. This to me probably feels bigger than any win in my career. I really feel bad that Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) isn't here. This is obviously his team and his effort."
This week: In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kenseth ranks fifth out of 37 drivers with an average place of 8.3. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Despite a slow qualifying time that put Kenseth 15th on the grid of 20 drivers, the veteran motored his way up the field in a new format and challenged for the overall win. Kenseth won the second 20-lap segment and entered pit road second prior to the 10-lap sprint to the finish. The driver couldn't catch winner Jimmie Johnson, though, but still finished third. Kenseth is a previous winner, having won the All-Star Race in 2004, the year after his Cup championship.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is fourth in the standings with 359 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. has struggled at Darlington recently, and he looked to be in for another long night at "The Lady in Black." And while the No. 88 Chevrolet never fooled anybody into thinking it was a potential winning race car, it did get better as the night went on, and Junior drove to a ninth-place finish. It was Earnhardt's first top-10 at Darlington since 2008 and gave the driver a 10-point cushion over fifth-place Clint Bowyer.
What he said: "We had a real good car all weekend, just never really got great track position. The last half of the race the car was a little bit up out of the race track, but we were still pretty happy."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt ranks fifth of 39 drivers with an average place of 5.4. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Earnhardt ranks 16th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 11.1. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Without a victory in 2011, Earnhardt qualified for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race last year by winning the 40-lap NASCAR Sprint Showdown. That win gave Junior an automatic entry into the main event later in the evening. And Earnhardt made the most of it, driving well and challenging for a win in the four 20-lap segments. In the final 10-lap dash to end the event, he finished fifth.

5. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is fifth in the standings with 349 points.
Last week: "The Lady in Black" has often been a cruel mistress to Bowyer, but the driver of the No. 15 Toyota appeared on the verge of moving past the, well, past. Then a mental snafu doomed Bowyer -- the driver pulled out of pit lane with his gas canister still in, which resulted in a pass-through penalty. That dropped Bowyer from seventh to 17th, but he rallied to finish 11th, one of 17 drivers on the lead lap.
What he said: "Overall it wasn't our best night and it wasn't our worst. We made some mistakes that set us back but we battled back and got a pretty decent finish. That was a tough race tonight at a pretty unforgiving track."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bowyer ranks 24th out of 39 drivers with an average place of 13.1. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Bowyer ranks 27th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 14.8. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Driving the No. 15 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer finished the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in 14th place after qualifying 12th.

6. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is sixth in the standings with 326 points.
Last week: For the third time this season -- and for the second consecutive week -- Kahne and Kyle Busch were involved in an incident. One week after Busch sent Kahne into the wall (it was accidental, and Busch apologized), the two drivers had an exciting exchange late that saw Kahne pass Busch for the lead, then Busch take it back in the same lap. The two dueling cars eventually were broken up when Kahne slapped the wall hard; there didn't appear to be any contact, but afterward, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet said Busch messed up his turn entry, which triggered the incident. Kahne's car was battered, but it limped to a 17th-place finish to salvage some points.
What he said: "I mean, (Busch has) got to just race me. I've never touched the guy in my life as far as on the race track. Three times this year, there have been other times in other years. I don't really know what his deal is with me. ? The angle he took into the corner, he had no steer and just went straight. Then I went spinning. It was definitely a tough way to end our race."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne ranks 14 out of 39 drivers with an average place of 8.2. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Kahne ranks 20th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 11.6. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: The 2008 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner, Kahne didn't have much of a shot in 2012. During qualifying, Kahne -- trying to speed to the pole position -- wiped out and was forced to go to a back-up car. He finished the event ninth.

7. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is seventh in the standings with 326 points.
Last week: Without crew chief Paul Wolfe for the first of two races, Keselowski struggled at Darlington. A vibration issue put the No. 2 Ford two laps down after it had climbed from 26th to 13th. The climb back up was slow due to a prolonged green-flag run, and it was for naught when Keselowski was caught up in the wreckage after Casey Mears spun out, bringing out the caution from Laps 313-317. It added up to a 32nd-place finish for the defending series champion.
What he said: "It was definitely a race we would like to forget. I honestly feel that we had a Miller Lite Ford that could have run in the top five, so to finish 32nd is disappointing."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Keselowski ranks third out of 39 drivers with an average place of 3.2. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Keselowski ranks 24th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 14.1. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Keselowski put himself in excellent position to contend for the win by finishing third in the third of four 20-lap segments. That put him third in line entering pit row before the final 10-lap segment, but he -- along with every other driver -- couldn't catch Jimmie Johnson. Still, Keselowski finished second and, in perhaps a bit of foreshadowing from the eventual 2012 series champion, told reporters "We got beat by a five-time champ and two-time All-Star winner, so I think we're doing pretty good."

8. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is eighth in the standings with 325 points.
Last week: Busch was the dominant Darlington driver, and it wasn't close. One day after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Busch grabbed the lead four times and led an astonishing 265 (of 367) laps, including a stretch of 153 in a row. Matt Kenseth passed Busch to lead Lap 355, and held on to win. Busch's right-rear tire was cut during the final laps and went low, but the driver never lost control of his vehicle and finished sixth. He moved up one spot in the standings for his efforts and is one point behind sixth-place Kasey Kahne and seventh-place Brad Keselowski.
What he said: Busch declined comment as he left the track. His crew chief Dave Rogers said: "(Kyle's) pretty tore up that they're racing hard and (Kasey) Kahne tore up another car. This is the third time we've been involved in an incident with Kasey and all of us over here have a ton or respect for that program. Kyle thinks the world of Kasey Kahne and I think Kenny Francis (No. 5 crew chief) is a great guy ? (Kyle) was just really somber and disappointed that it happened."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch ranks ninth out of 39 drivers with an average place of 7.3. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Busch ranks fourth out of 37 drivers with an average place of 7.0. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Things started off well for Busch. The driver won the pole for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race for the second consecutive year and third time overall. He fell short of the $1 million prize, though. Winning the first 20-lap segment was the key, and Busch lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson (segment one winner) after 15 laps. The No. 18 Toyota didn't win one of the four segments, and went on to finish the event fourth.

9. Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Almirola is ninth in the standings with 317 points.
Last week: Almirola is still in the top 10 -- and therefore still owns one of 10 automatic entries into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- but the competition is tighter this week. Almirola's streak of consecutive top-10s ended at four when the driver finished 20th and one lap down at Darlington. Eleventh-place Paul Menard is just two points behind Almirola, and 12th-place Jeff Gordon is six points behind.
What he said: "That's not the result we wanted at all. That was a tough night. We fought hard, but just weren't quite good enough. We were slipping and sliding all over the place, so we'll regroup and go to Charlotte and have another go at it."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Almirola ranks seventh out of 39 drivers with an average place of 5.9. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Almirola has no starts. To qualify for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race, he needs either a top-two finish in the 40-lap NASCAR Sprint Showdown or to win the fan vote.
Last year: Almirola had a speedy No. 43 Ford for the NASCAR Sprint Showdown event, but he didn't place in the top two to automatically qualify for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. He finished seventh in the 40-lap showdown.

10. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is 10th in the standings with 315 points.
Last week: Harvick negotiated a potentially terrible bit of luck -- pitting early due to strategy, then seeing a caution come -- with the aplomb of a veteran. The driver never lost focus under the lights at Darlington, and he's now in the top 10 in the standings after his fifth-place finish. Harvick's two top-fives this year have come in the past three races, and he has a win in his back pocket should he fall out of the top 10 in the standings and need to make the Chase via one of the two Wild Card entries.
What he said: "We got caught with that one caution; luckily we were running fifth at the time and we were able to take a wave-around and restart I think 11th. So, it didn't bite us too bad and we were able to get back where we were and that's probably about where our car should have finished."
This week: In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Harvick ranks 17th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 11.2. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Harvick qualified fifth for the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race, then finished sixth. He won the event in 2007.

11. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 11th in the standings with 315 points.
Last week: Menard slipped in the standings, much like he slipped late in the Bojangles' Southern 500. Driving near the top 10 earlier in the race, Menard fell six spots between Lap 280 and Lap 300 because of a pit-road penalty for a commitment line violation and was 20th with 67 laps to go. He finished 19th and, as the standings lie currently, he would have one of the two Wild Card entries into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
What he said: "We struggled with handling issues for the majority of the day, and I put us behind late with a pit-road penalty. We were able to catch a break at the end with those caution flags to get a couple of our laps back. We'll learn from tonight and move on."
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Menard ranks 26th out of 39 drivers with an average place of 13.4. In the past eight non-points Sprint NASCAR All-Star Races, Menard ranks 18th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 11.3. To qualify for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race, he needs either a top-two finish in the 40-lap NASCAR Sprint Showdown or to win the fan vote.
Last year: Menard qualified seventh for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the first time he was in the event. Menard's No. 27 Chevrolet and teammate Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet accidentally bumped early on, and it was tough for either to recover. Menard finished 16th.

12. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolett 

Where he stands: Gordon is 12th in the standings with 311 points.
Last week: In his 700th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, Gordon showed no fear at Darlington. The No. 24 led for 16 laps and was never out of the top 10 after starting eighth. Gordon's third-place finish Saturday was his second such finish of the season and, for the second time this year, brings the driver into the top 12 in the points standings.
What he said: "I couldn't think of a better place to come to and get the 700th start here. Then to go out there and have a strong performance, it felt great. I wanted the 700th to be a memorable one, and I'm glad it wasn't like last year's memory where we blew two left-rear tires back?to?back. This was much better than that. Top three, that's fantastic."
This week: In the past eight non-points Sprint NASCAR All-Star Races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gordon ranks sixth out of 37 drivers with an average place of 8.3. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
Last year: Gordon qualified eighth for the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race and finished 13th. He is one of three drivers in NASCAR history to hold three wins in the event, having finished first in 1995, 1997 and 2001.

Five in the rearview mirror ?

Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is 13th in the standings with 311 points.
Last week: Biffle's situation isn't quite dire -- he's actually tied with 12th-place Gordon in points -- but at the very least, it's starting to become worrisome. He's finished outside the top 10 for four consecutive races. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Biffle ranks first out of 39 drivers with an average place of 1.7. In the past eight non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Biffle ranks 12th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 10.3. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race
.

For more information on Biffle and the Coca-Cola Racing Family, click here.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 14th in the standings with 301 points.
Last week: While Truex Jr. qualified fifth, he finished seven spots worse than that in 12th place. Then again, he also gained six spots over the last 140 laps after falling down in the field. Truex Jr. is 10 points out of 12th place in the standings and he's finished in the top 20 for five consecutive races.
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Truex Jr. ranks eighth out of 39 drivers with an average place of 6.7. In the past eight non-points Sprint NASCAR All-Star Races, Truex Jr. ranks 26th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 14.7. To qualify for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race, he needs either a top-two finish in the 40-lap NASCAR Sprint Showdown or to win the fan vote.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 18th in the standings with 262 points.
Last week: Busch blazed his way to a new track record during qualifying and started the Bojangles' Southern 500 on the pole. He led 69 total laps, including the first 51, but his car worsened as the race wore on -- which Busch let his crew know through some colorful (but not vulgar) radio chatter. The No. 78 Chevrolet eventually finished in 14th.
This week: In the past eight non-points Sprint All-Star Races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch ranks 11th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 10.3. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42)

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Montoya is 22nd in the standings with 238 points.
Last week: Although he hasn't gained much ground in the standings and remains outside the top 20, Montoya has put together strong showings of late. That trend continued in Darlington when the Colombian finished eighth, his second-best showing at the track in his Cup career. He has two top-10s in the past three weeks and was consistent Saturday night. Montoya qualified 12th and stayed inside the top 15 for the first 300 laps before climbing into the top 10 late.
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Montoya ranks 29th out of 39 drivers with an average place of 15.3. In the past eight non-points Sprint NASCAR All-Star Races, Truex Jr. ranks 30th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 16.0. To qualify for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race, he needs either a top-two finish in the 40-lap NASCAR Sprint Showdown or to win the fan vote.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Hamlin is 27th in the standings with 197 points.
Last week: In his first full race since his March 24 race, Hamlin finished second and picked up some points he desperately needed to get back into contention for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
This week: In the past eight NASCAR Sprint Showdown non-points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hamlin ranks second out of 39 drivers with an average place of 3.1. In the past eight non-points Sprint NASCAR All-Star Races, Hamlin ranks 13th out of 37 drivers with an average place of 10.6. He has automatically qualified for the 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race.

For more information on Hamlin and the Coca-Cola Racing Family, click here.

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