Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson fell to 36th after an early spin at Charlotte, but recovered to finish third in the Bank Of America 500, one spot ahead of Denny Hamlin. Johnson now leads Hamlin by 41 points in the Sprint Cup standings with five races remaining.
“Five points may not be a lot,” Johnson said, “but it puts me five points closer to the Sprint Cup championship. And five is the operable number. That fifth title will give me five rings, one for each of my five fingers. And, with five fingers, you can make a very convincing ‘clinched’ fist.”
2. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin finished fourth in the Bank Of America 500, his 12th top-5 finish of the year. Hamlin chased Jimmie Johnson for many of the closing laps but was unable to get close enough to pass. Johnson’s five-point edge in the race put him 41 ahead of Hamlin as the series heads to Martinsville, where both Johnson and Hamlin are strong.
“The No. 11 Fed Ex Ground Toyota was good,” Hamlin said, “but not good enough. We’ve slipped back in the standings by small margins the last two races. In Japan, they call that ‘Tokyo Drift.’”
Now, I want the Sprint Cup championship badly. To me, it’s the Holy Grail of auto racing. With Johnson on his game, it may take a bit of magic, and we may have to pull something out of our rear end to defeat him. If that’s the case, then we’ll call my car ‘Fed Ex-calibur.’”
3. Kevin Harvick: Harvick finished eighth at Charlotte, posting his series-best 21st top-10 result of the year. He is third in the point standings, trailing Jimmie Johnson by 77 points, and besides Denny Hamlin, may be the only hope to end Jimmie Johnson’s title reign.
“There’s an election approaching,” Harvick said, “so it’s fitting that the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team is offering ‘hope’ and ‘change.’
Others have thrown in towels, as a result of engine failures, wrecks, unjust rulings by NASCAR, or what have you. We’re much too close to Johnson to call it quits. There will be no ‘concession’ speech, except maybe by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s director of merchandising, because sales have to be slow for him.”
4. Kyle Busch: Busch led 217 of 334 laps at Charlotte, but his dominance was interrupted by a debris caution with 26 laps to go that bunched the field. Busch was passed by Jamie McMurray, who pulled away in clean air, while Busch settled for second. Busch improved four spots in the point standings to fifth, 177 behind Johnson.
“Was their actually debris on the track?” Busch said. “I don’t know. This I do know: NASCAR has the best spotter in the business.
I still don’t like our chances to win the Cup. There’s a joke going around: ‘What did Kyle Busch say when asked about his attitude towards winning the Cup, despite facing nearly insurmountable odds?’ If you don’t know the answer and replied ‘I give up,’ then you’re right anyway.”
5. Tony Stewart: Stewart fought an ill-handling car for much of the night at Charlotte and finished 21st, the last car on the lead lap. It was a crushing blow to Stewart’s title hopes after last week’s win at California. He is sixth in the point standings, 177 out of first.
“The naming of Mobil 1 as a sponsor for next year eases the pain of our disappointment in the Chase thus far,” Stewart said. “We may have ran out of fuel in New Hampshire, but now we’re ‘gassed’ up for next year.”
6. Carl Edwards: Edwards started second at Charlotte but immediately faced handling problems that dropped him well out of the top 10. Numerous adjustments led to minor improvements, but the No. 99 Ford never found the speed to compete up front. Edwards remained seventh in the point standings, and is 200 out of first.
“The Aflac Fusion lacked handling all night,” Edwards said. “Give Matt Kenseth a football, and he’ll throw one, but I’m not used to driving a ‘wounded duck.’
I’m not quite ready to declare my Sprint Cup hopes over,” Edwards said. “At least not officially. But, as you can see by a 200 point deficit and my body language, a ‘declaration of inference’ is imminent.”
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon dashed to the pole for the Bank Of America 500, but his night in Charlotte was felled by a battery issue and a late pit road speeding penalty. He finished 23rd, and is now 156 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the Sprint Cup standings.
“That’s two speeding penalties in the last two races,” Gordon said. “I’m obviously in a hurry to get somewhere, but apparently not to the finish line.”
8. Greg Biffle: Biffle finished fourth at Charlotte, overcoming a slow start to claim his seventh top-5 result of the year. He moved up two spots to eighth in the Sprint Cup point standings, and now trails Jimmie Johnson by 225.
“It was nice to ‘finish’ on Sunday,” Brady said, “as opposed to last week’s disaster at California, in which we were ‘finished.’”
9. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth finished sixth in the Bank Of America 500, his second top 10 of the Chase and only his fifth of the year. Kenseth, in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, started 17th and made continual improvements to position himself for his best finish of the Chase.
“I drive the Crown Royal car,” Kenseth said. “And the way things are looking, Jimmie Johnson drives the ‘crown royalty’ car.”
10. Kurt Busch: Busch, the spring winner at Charlotte, fell out of contention early in the Bank Of America 500 with a spin that dropped him a lap down and languishing far back in the field. Busch eventually finished 30th, three laps down, and fell to ninth in the point standings, 237 out of first.
“Saturday’s race was a far cry from May’s race,” Busch lamented. “Believe me, it’s humbling being called a ‘defending champion’ in the presence of Jimmie Johnson.”