As we draw within sight of the Chase, let's take a look back at how the season has gone so far for NASCAR's top teams. We continue with Hendrick Motorsports, still the unquestioned big dog in the sport.
Drivers: Jimmie Johnson (currently 2nd in the standings), Jeff Gordon (currently 7th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (currently 10th), Mark Martin (currently 18th)
Wins: 3 (Gordon 2 @ Phoenix and Pocono, Johnson 1 @ Talladega)
Overall accolades: 3 wins, 4 poles, 18 top-5s, 35 top-10s, 7 DNFs.
High point: Probably Talladega, in which all four Hendrick cars were in the hunt for the win right into the final turn. (Well, two were in the hunt and two were pushing, but let's not get technical.) It was a perfect display of team strategy and unity that reminded everyone who's still in charge in NASCAR until further notice.
Low point: The last six weeks for Junior, which have seen him fall from third to 10th and on the verge of missing the Chase, cratering when Junior Nation believed Johnson let donw Earnhardt at Daytona in July. Martin's never really gotten started, Gordon has settled down, and the "problems" that Johnson is having with his crew haven't kept him from the second-place slot in the standings.
Outlook for the Chase and beyond: Gordon's a lock, and unless Johnson decides to skip three races, he's in too. Martin is out without a Hail-Mary win surge. Junior is, as always, the X-factor; he could race his way in just by holding serve and staying in the 10th position, but even one slip and he's gone; it'd be an ignominious end to one of his best seasons ever if he ended up 11th and the final Chase slots went to Paul Menard and David Ragan.
Once in the Chase? It's Johnson's title, and the winner's going to have to go over, around or through the 48 to get the Cup. Gordon is looking impressively consistent in a way he wasn't earlier this year, and could have a legitimate shot at the Cup if he gets a few breaks. Junior will need more mojo and luck than he's had all year long.
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