Breaking down the performances after the Chase for the Championship Sprint Cup race at Kansas on Sunday:
Jimmie Johnson: The five-time series champion's route to his second checkered flag of the season was tumultuous and rife with multiple cautions, decisions to be made on fuel and tires and risky restarts. Each decision crew chief Chad Knaus made worked, and Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet proved to be the best no matter how many times it was tested. That Johnson's pit crew is suddenly cranking out efficient service stops eliminates -- at least for now -- another nagging variable that threatened to undo his historic run. Johnson, in winning his 55th career Cup race and tying Rusty Wallace for eighth all time, has regained the Chase veneer he has used to dominate the playoff system since its inception.
Carl Edwards: Resilience is a Chase virtue and Edwards has been virtuous indeed. He shrugged off a pit road speeding penalty at Dover to finish third and an ill-handling No. 99 Ford -- a product of a pre-race setup error by him and crew chief Bob Osborne, Edwards said -- to finish a rousing fifth on Sunday at Kansas. The only driver to finish in the top 10 in every Chase race this season, he leads the driver standings by one point.
Brad Keselowski: He led five laps and presented Johnson with a pitched battle for the lead late in the race but settled for third. He and crew chief Paul Wolfe were able to improve a No. 2 Dodge that started fourth -- and gained key track position skipping a pit stop -- to keep Keselowski very much in the mix for a first championship. Like Edwards and Harvick, his consistency is crucial. Only a mechanical problem at Dover has slowed him so far. His 20th-place finish there last week was just the second time in the last 10 races he's finished worse than sixth.
Matt Kenseth: The 2003 series champion didn't seem content with a fourth-place finish, probably because he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig "just missed it" on the No. 17 Ford, he said. Kenseth started fourth and brought the car to the finish in the same position. Not satisfying, but not counterproductive either.
Kevin Harvick: Late pit stops and a successful gamble on fuel helped percolate a No. 29 Chevrolet, which Harvick described as various degrees of terrible with varying levels of vitriol, to sixth place. Harvick's car lurched so badly coming off a corner early in the race he nearly spun with Edwards and Johnson on either side. He instructed crew chief Gil Martin to find some answers on his "little computer" during the race. Apparently, Martin had some.
Tony Stewart: The two-time series champion said he had never before accidentally pressed the accelerator and brake pedal simultaneously while slowing for a pit stop. But he did it on a crucial late stop, sliding through his pit stall and crushing his opportunity for a top-five finish. A winner of the first two Chase races who had a competitive No. 14 Chevrolet on Sunday, Stewart figures to remain in contention, however.
Kyle Busch: The regular-season points leader has been points racing through the first four events of the Chase, and he's currently sitting an anonymous eighth in the standings. He's just 20 points behind Edwards after finishing 11th on Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: NASCAR's most popular driver tussled with what he deemed an "inconsistent" No. 88 Chevrolet throughout the race, finished 14th and is ninth in points, an untenable 43 off the lead.
Kurt Busch: Busch and crew chief Steve Addington were diligent, but they combated tire issues, fuel consumption and track position woes all afternoon. A possible top-10 finish was undone when the elected not to pit late and were chased down by cars that were better on fresher tires. And Busch said over his team radio earlier in the race that the car felt like it was on banana peels. Points for hopefully adding a new phrase to the lexicon of NASCAR jargon.
Denny Hamlin: He finished 16th as he grinds out a disappointing season and made some cryptic remarks about team chemistry and direction of the team, saying "I think we know what direction to go in, whether we can get there or not. [We've] got to have cooperation from everyone. People need to be open-minded to make changes. We'll just see where it goes from there. ... It's everything that goes into to putting the race together and making it fast, we have to get better at."
Jeff Gordon: The four-time series champion was racing in the top five at the midpoint, but a tire gamble and poor restart shuffled him out of the top 10 even before a three-wide battle with Stewart helped, he said, ruin his engine. The No. 24 Chevrolet expired with just two laps left. Gordon slumped to a 34th-place finish, hammering his title hopes.
Ryan Newman: Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet was fractious from the outset and didn't respond to numerous adjustments, finishing 18th. Compounding matters, Newman left pit road following a Lap 128 service missing one of five lug nuts and was forced to return to complete the stop. Newman qualified for the Chase with consistently solid results during the regular season, and finished eighth in the postseason opener, but he's finished 25th, 23rd and 18th since.
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