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"The Closer" closes in on "The Carl"

"The Closer" closes in on "The Carl"

by Matt Taliaferro

 1. Carl Edwards  The day faded to night at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Edwards’ car struggled to keep up. Regardless, he’s the man to beat on most weekends.

 2. Kevin Harvick  No one but Harvick is quite clear where he came from to win the Coke 600, but in typical “flare for the dramatic” fashion (see: 2007 Daytona 500), he managed another crown jewel win.

 3. Jimmie Johnson  The 48 car doesn’t blow up very often, but when it does, crew chief Chad Knaus tells the world how unhappy he is, via FOX’s live in-car radio feed.

 4. Kyle Busch  The Lexus brand doesn't usually get much play in NASCAR-land, but Kyle saw to that last week. What’s all this talk about the “New” Kyle Busch, again?

 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Losing the Coca-Cola 600 coming out of Turn 4 with a dry fuel tank has to hurt ... and for the second time this season, in a cruel bit of irony, it was the Budweiser car that robbed him of what looked to be a sure-fire win.

 6. Matt Kenseth  May have had the best car in Charlotte, but when a rash of cautions and wacky fuel strategy came into play, Kenseth was relegated to a 14th-place finish.

 7. Greg Biffle  Lost in fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s disappointment was Biffle, who gave up the lead prior to the green-white-checker finish for a splash of gas and a safe points day. The stop dropped him from first to 13th.

 8. Denny Hamlin  Continuing a trend, Hamlin also was the victim of an empty gas tank. And for those that were throwing dirt on his grave a month ago, noticed he’s quietly worked his way up the standings to 12th.

 9. Kasey Kahne  Unlike Biffle, Kahne stayed out for the green-white-checker finish, led the field to green and then ran out of fuel. The difference? He needs wins to make the Chase. And eight positions in the final rundown.

10. Clint Bowyer  Bowyer battled an evil car throughout most of the evening in Charlotte, but was able to muster a 15th-place run.

11. Tony Stewart  Expected more out of Stewart in the 600 after it appeared his team found something previously lacking in the All-Star Race.

12. Jeff Gordon  Lucky for Gordon, only five 1.5- to 2-mile ovals remain until the Chase.

13. Marcos Ambrose  The schedule sets up well for him, with two road races coming up shortly … and those five intermediate stops that have been Gordon's bane have been Ambrose's bread 'n' butter this year.

14. David Ragan  Earns his career-best Cup finish (second) at Charlotte. For a driver with an uncertain future, that doesn't suck.

15. AJ Allmendinger  In case you haven’t noticed (and you probably have not), the 'Dinger sits only 18 points out of the final Chase spot.

Just off the lead pack: Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers
 

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<p> Kevin Harvick's third win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season vaulted him up Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings. But a familiar face still stands head and shoulders above the field.</p>

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