How the race was won
Kahne Kasey Kahne had one of the best cars in the field, but a pit road speeding penalty forced him to make his way back to the front – which he did with relative ease, and with good pit strategy. Once back in the lead, Kahne just checked out and dominated, with the fuel gamblers providing the only real competition in the waning laps.
Story of the race
Reed Sorenson's dramatic win via fuel mileage. Well, almost.
Kahne's chase for a Chase berth getting a huge boost with a win. And he won the Busch race.
The overall solid effort from the would-be Chasers.
Give 'em credit
Kahne and the No. 9 team, of course. They shouldn't have to be racing themselves back into the top 10, but they sure look good trying.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sunday's performance was nothing short of huge. Unfortunately for Junior, he still is not out of the woods by any stretch, but Sunday was a big test that the No. 8 team aced.
Jeff Gordon. Sure, the team endured a pit mishap that ultimately might have cost them a top-three finish, but Gordon was able to inch himself ahead of most of that huge pack sitting on the Chase bubble. Any halfway-decent finish at Richmond will be enough.
Speaking of the Chase bubblers, how's this for a collective good performance? In addition to Kahne, Junior and Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart all finished top-10, with Mark Martin crossing 12th. The locks and near-locks (new points leader Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick) all had strong or decent days, with Jeff Burton (16th) being the only would-be Chaser to collect a remotely disappointing finish.
Clint Bowyer. He has shown signs of near-greatness several times this year. Including Sunday.
Dale Jarrett collected his first top-10 since March. Since March.
Nice finish for Carl Edwards. He keeps saying he's having fun. You believe him?
NASCAR announced a rule change over the weekend which states that any drivers tied for 10th after Richmond all would make the Chase rather than being subject to tiebreakers. Makes sense. There could be 11 drivers in this year's Chase yet.
What were they thinking?
Singer Mya was introduced as "May-ay-ah" before singing the national anthem. Bet they didn't mispronounce governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's name. Or Jim Belushi's, for that matter.
In the Fan Zone area were being handed out samples of "Daytona 500: The fragrance for men." It boasts of being "the fragrance that captures the thrill and exhilaration of the Daytona 500." The catchy call to action? "Live Daytona 500. Every day." Ridiculous. Actually, there is something garage-like about the odor. Sort of. It's actually not a very strong scent, which makes sense considering it's a restrictor plate cologne.
Better luck next time
Sorenson OK, so it's not like a sure-win was stolen from him, but what a story it would have been if Sorenson and Co.'s fuel gamble had paid off.
Joe Nemechek. Last year, the story for that team was a great run ended prematurely by bad luck. This year hasn't even been that good, but Sunday's performance harkened back to the almost good ol' days of '05.
Bill Lester failed to qualify, but his "second attempt" after losing it near the end of his first lap made for some nice drama.
Paul Menard for running out of gas late in the Busch race. He might have had one more shot at catching Kahne.
By the way …
Last year at Fontana a big Sprint sign could be seen above the tunnel heading into the infield, signaling the start of a transition from Nextel signage to Sprint. But this year the sign is back to yellow, boasting the Nextel brand, only available from Sprint. A company rep told Yahoo! Sports earlier this summer to expect more of such branding. And with Nextel's successful and funny ad campaigns, don't expect the Nextel brand to necessarily completely disappear from the series title anytime soon.
Everyone wonders what it will take to make California Speedway more popular. Aside from moving the track at least 50 miles west, it seems officials are at least giving it the good ol' college try. And it might be working.
Is Johnson just in cruise control heading into the Chase, or has the 48 lost a half-step? And can Burton afford any more missed opportunities? With one to go until the Chase, clearly not.
Grading the race
Anyone still claiming that California Speedway races are boring just wasn't paying attention Sunday night. Sure, a couple of long green runs slowed the action down, so to speak, but otherwise drivers were dicing all over the track right from the green flag, battling three- and four-wide, mixing it up with two or three other cars at the front and making aggressive moves to pass each other. And then there was the wild, mileage-fueled finish. There were countless battles for position – including plenty for the lead – a couple of comebacks and a dramatic finish. And even with the long green runs, only Gordon and Kahne really checked out at any point. The rest of the time, battles for the lead regularly ensued. Some fans are looking for more bumping and banging, especially after last week's relatively tame (but still entertaining) Bristol race. But the last couple of weeks are proving that the drivers don't need to wreck each other to put on a good show. Grade: A-
From the source
Kasey Kahne: "I came here telling myself, 'you gotta win, you gotta win, you gotta lead laps.'"
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "The [Chase is] great for this sport. It [creates] drama and excitement at a normally boring part of the season."
Jim Belushi: "[NASCAR] is exploding, and I'm part of the explosion. I'm here."
Race grand marshal Kelly Clarkson: "I'm a bad-ass driver, man. No, I'm a horrible driver. I'm going to be honest with you. … Whenever I get behind the wheel, I usually suck royally."
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Last time I was here watching the NASCAR race, I said, 'I'll be back.' So here I am. I'm back again."