Chase for the Championship Grades
With three races to go in the season, SI.com's Tim Tuttle hands out his grades for the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Championship, beginning with Jimmie Johnson, who has virtually clinched his third straight Sprint Cup title. He has been brilliant in running up an 183-point advantage, using a dynamic combination of speed and smarts for two wins, two seconds, fifth, sixth and ninth in seven Chase races.
He started the Chase as one of the favorites, but mechanical problems in the opening two races dropped him to 12th in the points and he's never rebounded to look anything like the driver he was in the regular season.
Edwards has been impressive with five top-three finishes, including one win in the Chase, but he damaged his overall score by starting the big wreck at Talladega that left him 29th. But Edwards would still be a contender without the electrical failure at Lowe's (33rd).
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The fan favorite hasn't been able to match teammates Johnson or Gordon in the Chase. He's had some bad luck (36th from a blown tire at Lowe's), but he's mostly been mediocre (two-top fives).
Stewart's win at Talladega in a survival race and eighth at New Hampshire are his only top-10s in a disappointing final Chase with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jeff Gordon's Chase has been like his regular season, close but no cigar with five top-10s, topped by two fourths, a 14th and a caught-up-in-a-wreck 38th at Talladega. The speed to run for the lead just hasn't been there.
He sizzled at the start of the Chase, winning the opening two races and finishing third at Kansas, but was caught up in a wreck at Talladega (24th) and hasn't been able to gain on Johnson despite finishes of seventh, 12th and 10th.
After four straight top-10s to start the Chase, Burton's win at Lowe's put him into contention, but he's faded with runs to 17th at Martinsville and Atlanta.
Kevin Harvick doesn't have a top-five in the Chase, but sits a respectable fifth in the points thanks to four top-10s and a worst of 20th.
It's been a quiet Chase for Bowyer, whose fifth at Talladega is one of three top-10s.
He has deserved better in the Chase, caught up in wrecks at New Hampshire (40th), Lowe's (41st) and Talladega (26th), but he also wasn't fast enough to run at the front in those races, either. Kenseth has three top-fives and one more top-10, so he's been decent.
He has shown signs of life by finishing fifth and third the past two weeks and he has one other top-10 in the Chase. He's had some bad luck with a blown tire at Talladega (39th) and mechanical problems at Dover (38th).