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'Smoke' signals he's coming for top spot

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Tony Stewart took the checkered flag at Martinsville, then hopped out of his car and issued a warning to Carl Edwards: "He better be worried." With three races to go, it's on.

Here is how the Chase field fared in Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway:

1. Carl Edwards – Finished 9th: Phew. That's all Edwards can say after this race. He wasn't very good for most of the 500 laps, fell a lap down, got a break when a caution came out, giving him the Lucky Dog to put him back on the lead lap. Then, on the ensuing restart, NASCAR originally black flagged him for passing too early only to rescind the penalty. All that and he wound up ninth. A championship-saving day? If he wins it, absolutely. (-)

2. Tony Stewart – Finished 1st: Smoke has never been more fired up than he was after this victory. It looked like a cut tire with only a handful of laps to go would ruin his day. Instead, he rallied back, passed Jimmie Johnson on the final restart with three laps to go and is now hot on Edwards' tail, a point he made clear in victory lane. (-8 points)

3. Kevin Harvick – Finished 4th: If not for the wreck at Talladega, Harvick would likely be the points leader. Another solid run – his sixth top-10 finish in seven Chase races – but it looks like it's going to take wins to catch Edwards. (-21 points)

4. Brad Keselowski – Finished 17th: The Chase rookie was all over the place. Up one minute, down the next. He finished somewhere in the middle. The distance between him and first grew. He's not out, but he's certainly down. (-27 points)

5. Matt Kenseth – Finished 31st: For most of the race, it looked like Kenseth would be the big winner. He was actually the in-race points leader. Then he made contact with Kyle Busch on a late restart, ruining both of their days and championship hopes. Instead of leaving Martinsville the points leader, Kenseth is now likely out of the title hunt. (-36 points)

6. Jimmie Johnson – Finished 2nd: In a signal that this just isn't his year – it has to happen once every half decade – Johnson got beat on a restart. Stewart got by him with three laps to go, relegating the five-time defending champ to second. Of course, there would have been no final restart for Stewart to pass him on if Brian Vickers had not brought out a caution when he retaliated against Matt Kenseth. (-43 points)

7. Kyle Busch – Finished 27th: A shot at the title was ripped from Busch's hands when he got wrecked (unintentionally) by Kenseth. Busch led the most laps at Martinsville and was heading for a top-5 finish. He's now unofficially out of the title hunt. (-57 points)

8. Kurt Busch – Finished 14th: Yet another contentious day for the elder Busch, who was involved in several incidents. (Who wasn't?) (-58 points)

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 7th: Finally, a second top 10 for Junior in the Chase. Since opening the Chase with a third-place run at Chicagoland, Junior has gone 17th, 24th, 14th, 19th and 25th. (-73 points)

10. Jeff Gordon – Finished 3rd: For the second straight week, Gordon had a shot at the win. Last week he got snookered by team orders. This week, it was time. He ran up front early and had the best car on the track. But the handling didn't last and he faded. It's pretty much a metaphor for his season. (-76 points)

11. Ryan Newman – Finished 10th: Outran his boss for the first 26 races. The reverse has been true when it counts the most. (-80 points)

12. Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: No, he won't be racing for a title, but Hamlin should take solace in the fact that he's running better now than he has all season. That's three straight top-10 finishes. (-89 points)

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