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WWD: Banquet 400

How the race was won

Stewart
Stewart Tony Stewart and the No. 20 team gambled that they'd have enough fuel to make it to the end without one final pit stop. They were wrong – but it didn't matter, as Stewart had such a big lead that he was able to coast through the final turns and across the line to take the checkers first.

Story of the race

The wild fuel finish.

Some big Chase disappointments.

Give 'em credit

Stewart. Also, Casey Mears, Dale Jarrett and everyone else who successfully played the fuel game. Well played.

Mark Martin. Loses a lap early, gets back in the mix, works out a third-place. Suddenly, he's a contender.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sure, some damage slowed what had been a great car, but watching him dodge Jarrett and then blow by a slowing Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, then later race a little out of control – it was entertaining. He certainly doesn't lack his father's flair.

Denny Hamlin. He encounters all sorts of problems, including some of his own doing, yet still manages to jump to second in points. And this on a bad day (one which almost ended in a top-10 finish).

What were they thinking?

Kyle Busch. For speeding on pit road. Yet again. Thing is, he recovered nicely. Yet again. As for the penalty, was he really notified late? If so, that's borderline unfair.

Clint Bowyer managed to allow teammate Jeff Burton – who was solid in collecting another top-five – to lead a lap and pick up bonus points, but these situations shouldn't even come up. We've said it before, we'll say it again: Awarding bonus points for leading one singular (not Cingular, Jeff) lap is just silly. Set a minimum number (five or 10 laps?) or percentage (between two and 10 percent of race total?) for laps led needed to earn bonus points. With points being so important, especially in the Chase, drivers shouldn't be able to accumulate them so cheaply.

NBC. Saying you'll break back in if something big happens only matters if you actually do it – unless the four-time champ sitting second in points and running around the top 10 encountering a disastrous, Chase-changing mechanical issue isn't considered significant. In that case, good call sticking with the commercials.

Kasey Kahne spinning himself right round baby right round. He's really done now. And he didn't help Jimmie Johnson all that much, either.

Better luck next time

Gordon
Gordon Gordon. And Johnson. Impressive comeback by Gordon (and Kevin Harvick) that just didn't end well. He should have left Kansas a comfy second in points. Johnson, meanwhile, normally would have been right to stay off pit road with a spinning car in front of him. For some reason, it just didn't work out this time. The speeding penalty, meanwhile, is all on the 48 team. If there ever is a time that Gordon and Johnson need to get together and dominate a race, Sunday at Talladega is it.

Bowyer. Was putting on a nice show in front of the partisan crowd. Could have been a great story.

Reed Sorenson. He supposedly had a car to beat. Too bad he didn't get a chance to prove it.

By the way …

For the first time this season, it can be said that this championship is one driver's to lose. That driver is Jeff Burton. Sure, anything can (and probably will) happen, but in the meantime, the No. 31 is in grand shape.

Stewart was right about that whole luck thing. He used a little luck to win on Sunday while some Chasers were bit by the bad variety. Is this championship format simply about staying out of trouble? Talladega will be a good test of that theory.

How unusual is it to see Jarrett being interviewed postrace? How crazy is it that DJ being interviewed postrace actually has become unusual?

Ryan Newman enjoys spinning, huh?

How was Matt Kenseth's No. 17 so bad on Sunday, especially after he ran so well the day before in the Busch race? Also, does Harvick's mind-boggling Busch Series dominance make people want a Chase-like format for that series, too?

Grading the race

Is Sunday a sign of things to come at the 1½-milers? Sure, it was a fun finish, but having a Chase race become such a fuel crap shoot (and people think Talladega is unfair?) is a bit embarrassing – not that anything can necessarily be done about it. It was just circumstance. On the merits, this race did have good action off the restarts, but that's nothing new. It also had the rare combination of having too many cautions combined with a couple of long green runs that weren't very exciting. Teams pitting with different strategies in the 150s created some on-track fun, but also some danger with out-of-control cars. Still, this one did pick up a bit over the last 80 to 100 laps, and the winning car (Stewart's) being one of the better ones in the field rather than one that hadn't been anywhere near the front all day also is a plus. But overall, this race wasn't one to write home about. Grade: C

From the source

Tony Stewart: "That is the thing about not being in the Chase. We can roll the dice."

Jeff Gordon: "We still can win the championship but I am just upset right now. I want to know what happened, I want to get out of here and move on, go to Talladega and go from there."