Grading out the performances of the Chase for the Championship race at Texas on Sunday.
Tony Stewart: The two-time series champion was fast all weekend, but it wasn't all his car, said crew chief Darian Grubb. With the handling of the No. 14 Chevrolet going away midway through the race, Stewart wrestled the car into submission until Grubb honed it. In the top five for most of the race, Stewart was able to drive away from the field on late restarts and beat Carl Edwards to the checkered flag by 1.092 seconds.
Carl Edwards: Tony Stewart won for the second consecutive week, but Edwards finished second. Stewart trimmed his deficit to just three points ... but three points are as good as a million as long as Edwards possesses more. After correcting the handling of his car midway through the race, he ran with and around Stewart all night and seems excited about the prospect of a two-race battle for what would be his first Cup title.
"I'm proud of our cars for turning what looked like it was going to be a bad night overall, or a disaster really in the points, [into] to something that is real manageable and something we can move forward with," he said. "Obviously, we definitely wanted to beat Tony tonight and pad that lead a little bit, but we can walk out of here with our heads up."
Matt Kenseth: The 2003 series champion led five times for 87 laps and finished fourth, allowing him to jump a spot to fourth in the standings. It was a completely acceptable result, he said.
"We just dropped the green and we weren't really that great," he said. "We led some in the beginning, having the track position and clean air. We kept fighting it, but we just could never get enough rear grip in it off the corner all day and really kind of struggled."
Jeff Gordon: Anonymous, but efficient, Gordon finished sixth, the highest-finishing driver not to lead a lap, with the help of a key two-tire stop.
"Compared to the way we ran here earlier in the year (23rd), this is almost like a win for us," Gordon said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He rallied to finish seventh.
Kevin Harvick: He required two pit stops under caution to repair front-end damage midway through the race but recovered to finish 13th. His championship hopes seem unlikely to recover, however, as he dropped to 30 points behind Edwards.
Jimmie Johnson: His slow procession to the end of his five-year run as Sprint Cup champion took another slide -- this time off Turn 4 and through the grass -- as he brought out a caution, was nicked with a commitment line violation and finished 14th.
Ryan Newman: An otherwise rotten afternoon was brightened with a four-lap stint on the lead late in the race, but Newman was forced to pit for fuel with 10 laps left and finished 16th.
Denny Hamlin: He battled a balky No. 11 Toyota for most of the race and had a pit road incident with Brad Keselowski. It was that kind of day in that kind of year, he said.
"It's probably one of the worst that we've had in a long time and we just couldn't fix any of the things that we had wrong in practice," he said.
Brad Keselowski: Involved in two pit road incidents, Keselowski accused Ryan Newman of blocking him in to benefit teammate Tony Stewart. Relegated to a 24th-place finish, Keselowski dropped a spot to fifth in points, 49 out.
Kurt Busch: The older Busch started 14th and finished 30th.
Kyle Busch: With Michael McDowell driving the No. 18 Toyota, Busch sat on his pit box serving out his weekend parking by NASCAR after wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution in the truck race on Friday. At least he wasn't made to sit in the corner, or with his head down.