How the race was won
Johnson Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin were strong all day, and they found themselves – partly thanks to a late caution – in a terrific two-car battle in the waning laps. Hamlin made a move, Johnson fought back on the outside and held Hamlin off, allowing the 48 car to motor on to victory.
Story of the race
Johnson vaulting back into title contention.
The points shakeup – mainly thanks to the No. 31's engine.
The troubles of youth.
Give 'em credit
Johnson. The 48 sure looks like a title-contending team, doesn't it? Incidentally, the back-and-forth between Johnson and Hamlin (Hamlin moved Johnson, Johnson answered with some banging) was tremendous.
Hamlin. He just won't go away. Good for him … and good for NASCAR. In bumping Johnson, attacking Jeff Gordon (that also was a good battle) and slamming into Kyle Petty, Hamlin also showed himself to be a hard-nosed rookie. Thing is, he's talented (or measured?) enough to get away with it. Not all young drivers can boast the same.
Tony Stewart really finished fourth? Amazing that the 20 can collect a top-five so quietly.
Gordon and Kasey Kahne. Still longshots (Gordon more so than Kahne), but they have to keep an open mind about title hopes after Sunday.
Some nifty driving and surviving from Kevin Harvick.
Worthy of mention: Ward Burton's lead-lap finish.
What were they thinking?
David Ragan. Don't want to just pile on here, as he was making just his second Cup start. But Sunday couldn't have gone much worse for him – or for the numerous cars he spun and/or ran into on the track. One day he'll look back on that day and laugh … he hopes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. He admitted he messed up ("Can't blame nobody but myself. … I got greedy," he said). Hard to stomach giving away potential top-10s at this point. That aside, it still seems he and Tony Eury Jr. are disagreeing on significant setup issues and strategy calls each week.
Some youngsters got in trouble for rough driving. Seems Ryan Newman (and Mears, who was far less guilty Sunday) should know better.
Better luck next time
Martin Martin was on his way to a possible top-10 finish, which would have left him in the top five in points. That's almost exactly what we wrote last week.
Jeff Burton. Now the fun begins.
Ken Schrader. Just brutal to get wrecked after running so well. He could have competed for a top-five on Sunday.
Kurt Busch. Won the pole, could have won the race. Things went downhill fast.
By the way …
In looking at the standings, how large does the last-lap Talladega wreck loom now?
Is a close Chase where almost anyone still can win exciting, or would it be better if four or five drivers had stepped up and distanced themselves from the pack by now?
How many here know who Sebastien Bourdais is? You probably should.
Staying in the open wheel world, F1 great Michael Schumacher is done. There's no chance he'd ever do IROC, but man that'd be wild.
If you don't know who Ted Johnson was, you probably should.
Johnson winning at Martinsville two years after the Hendrick plane crash is nice chapter in a sad story. And that it was mentioned on the telecast but not belabored by any stretch seemed to be about right, too.
Grading the race
This simply has not been a good stretch of racing, as Talladega, Lowe's and Martinsville – arguably the toughest three tracks in the Chase – all failed to put on a good show, though Sunday's finish did give Martinsville some redemption. When this race stayed green early, it actually was playing out nicely. Sure, it was follow-the-leader at points, but there was some passing throughout the field, and passing shouldn't always be easy. Also, the action off restarts, as is typical, was pretty good – especially when Jeff Burton was trying to get back on the lead lap. But the large number of wrecks took a toll on both the race's enjoyability and some of the drivers' title hopes and sanity. The second half of race dragged on way too long, and too many good cars were taken out. Give credit to those who stayed up front or used good strategy (which was an intriguing part of this race), however, as they helped put together an exciting finish. Grade: C
From the source
Jimmie Johnson: "We have been in the hunt for championships every year since this team has been around. Sooner or later we are going to get one."
Jeff Burton: "Everybody has had an issue in this Chase and we had ours [Sunday]. This thing is not over for us by any means."