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NASCAR's northern Chase swing in full effect
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Jimmie Johnson Looked like the typical Chase race for Johnson ... until he was bit by the fuel bug. Still, how many teams do you know can run out of fuel on the final lap and still finish 10th?
2. Kevin Harvick True to form, “The Closer” was running down Tony Stewart in the closing laps at Chicago. However, this time he came up short. Still your championship leader, though.
3. Jeff Gordon We’ll give Gordon a mulligan for being so far off at Chicagoland. The way he was running, you know he was thinking, “Where’s Menard when you need him?”
4. Carl Edwards Edwards was one of a few Chase drivers who benefited when gas tanks started running dry. Mainly because his did not.
5. Brad Keselowski Keselowski’s unlikely run continues. Like Edwards, he was the beneficiary of a race finishing on fumes. Were he allowed to use his 30 bonus points, he’d be the points leader.
6. Tony Stewart Smoke finally nabbed his first victory of 2011. And give him credit — his pit crew was solid, the car was fast and it got good mileage. This one was no fuel mileage fluke.
7. Ryan Newman Newman finds himself sixth, just 14 points out of the Chase lead, after an eighth in Chicago. Odds are he’ll be one of the drivers to beat this weekend.
8. Matt Kenseth Kenseth was Stewart’s main competition until — yes, you guessed it — the tank ran dry. And a little “help” from Travis Kvapil was salt in the wound.
9. Kyle Busch Busch seemed to have a decent car in Chicago, but could never gain the track position he needed to run up front. Oh yeah, he ran out of gas, too.
10. Kurt Busch Kurt says he’s in Jimmie Johnson’s head, but after listening to him rant to his team on the radio, I think Kurt’s pit crew is in Kurt’s head.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Was a legit top-10 car at race’s end. That everyone ran out of fuel in front of him was icing on the cake.
12. Denny Hamlin What a difference a year makes.
13. Mark Martin 13th on back in the Horsepower Rankings is more or less irrelevant … much like on the Cup circuit!
14. AJ Allmendinger It wasn’t pretty at Chicago, but credit AJ for a month of solid runs.
15. Clint Bowyer Returning this week to New Hampshire. Also known to Bowyer as “the scene of the crime.”
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.
Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro