So as the season winds down, here's the turning point for each of the other Chasers (sans Johnson), moments that left their rival with a clear path to the title:
"When you get in a hole like this," he said at the time, "It puts that much more pressure on you that you have to win."
The poor start took its toll as Gordon needed late-race pit strategy just to salvage a handful of solid finishes. He could finish as high as second in points, but that's small consolation to a four-time champ who's not even the best in his own organization.
"I'm kicking myself for what happened to us at Talladega," he said after winning at Texas the following week. "Running sixth place with a lap and a half to go, I put the car on the hauler at 30th. I didn't do my job." The 77-point difference would have left him on the fringes of title contention heading to Homestead, exceeding expectations in a surprising Chase for a driver losing crew chief
"It was making chicken salad out of chicken you know what," he said afterwards, a phrase that has applied to his Chase ever since.
"What's probably most frustrating about the whole thing, and I hate to beat a dead horse, is that the 42 and the 48 and I don't know who else came up here and tire tested," he said after running 13th. "And when we came back, look at the guys that didn't tire test, we ran terrible."
Many others also criticized the system, but crying over milk already spilled did nothing to establish the chemistry in the No. 16 team. While Biffle finished third at Kansas the following week, the team was never able to sustain any serious momentum against their Hendrick rivals.
Despite the embarrassment, it's been a positive experience for TRB as it looks to take the next step towards championship contention in 2010. For TRB, just like with others, there's always next year to look forward to.