This week’s race was a crucial one for a number of teams who ran into problems last week at Talladega. One of those contenders – the No. 99 of Carl Edwards – saw similar luck this weekend, when electrical issues forced him to lose a number of laps en route to a 33rd-place finish.
But Edwards was not the only Chaser to follow up a bad day at Talladega with a poor finish at Lowe’s. To see who else needs a good run this weekend at Martinsville and who is ready to battle Jimmie Johnson for the title, check out this week’s summary of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, Chase Edition.
Johnson: Johnson continues to do exactly what he needs to do to win this championship. With his seventh consecutive top-10 finish – sixth this weekend – Johnson is forcing other teams to register top fives simply to reel in the No. 48. After surviving the first wild card of the Chase last week at Talladega, Johnson must now do the same at the Martinsville short track. Fortunately for the No. 48 team, they have yet to finish outside of the top 10 in their last 12 appearances at the paperclip.
Jeff Burton: One of the most consistent drivers throughout the regular season, Burton is now making a run at the title during the Chase. With five consecutive top 10s to go along with a crucial win this weekend at Lowe’s, the No. 31 team is suddenly second in points, just 69 behind Johnson. Their momentum should continue at Martinsville, where the No. 31 team finished third earlier this season.
Greg Biffle: If there’s any driver who wishes he had another shot at Talladega, it’s Biffle. Involved in the Big One, Biffle lost ground to Johnson with a 24th-place finish at the superspeedway, but bounced back this week at Lowe’s with a seventh-place run. Talladega aside, Biffle’s average finish this Chase is third.
Jeff Gordon: The championship may be out of reach for Gordon, who is 245 points out of the lead with just five races remaining, but the former Cup champion is one of the hotter drivers in the series right now. An engine problem at Talladega dropped Gordon to eighth in the standings, but with his eighth-place finish this week at Lowe’s, Gordon now has three top 10s in the five Chase races.
Tony Stewart: Take away a 40th-place finish at Kansas, and Stewart’s fighting to break into the top five in points. His career at Joe Gibbs Racing may be winding down, but Stewart wants to leave the No. 20 team in style. He’s running well, with top 12s in four of the five Chase races – 11th this weekend – and now goes to a track in Martinsville where he’s finished in the top 10 in his last two races.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been a model of consistency in this final quarter of the season with eight consecutive top-12 finishes, including a 12th-place run this weekend. Despite the solid performances, a lack of top fives – he’s got just one over that stretch – leaves Bowyer 185 markers out of the points lead.
Kevin Harvick: This week’s event was one of those lackluster races for Harvick – not too good, not too bad. Starting sixth, the No. 29 hovered around the top 10 for much of the night before coming home 13th, his second mediocre run in a row after nine consecutive top-10 finishes.
Kyle Busch: After dominating the first 26 races, Lil’ Busch was the lone Chase driver to not yet record a top 10 in the four previous playoff races before Lowe’s. That streak ended Saturday night, with Busch posting a solid fourth-place finish. Still, the No. 18 team has three finishes outside the top 25 in their last five starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The bad luck bug continues to plague the No. 88 team after a cut tire and hard impact with the wall resulted in a 36th-place finish this weekend. That crash comes on the heels of another accident at Talladega and two non-top 10s in the two races prior. Junior’s only strong Chase performance came in the opener at New Hampshire, where he finished fifth.
Denny Hamlin: This has not been the type of Chase the No. 11 team had hoped for. Hamlin, after opening the postseason with a ninth-place finish at New Hampshire, has not recorded a top 10 since. A crash at Talladega last week and a 16th-place run this week leaves him dead last in the Chase standings.
Edwards: It’s been a difficult two weeks for Edwards, who has gone from championship challenger to 168 points behind Johnson. After causing the Big One last week, it was electrical problems that doomed him to a 33rd-place finish this week, leaving Edwards on the outside looking in on the title Chase. If his on track struggles weren’t enough, a garage scuffle off it with Harvick made national headlines as well.
Matt Kenseth: When Kenseth finishes, he runs well (second – Dover; fourth – Kansas). But with DNFs in his other three Chase races, including another crash this weekend, the No. 17 team has fallen to 11th in points.