1. Denny Hamlin: After qualifying 32nd, Hamlin charged to the front at Loudon and took the lead on lap 94. He led 193 of 300 laps and won for the fifth time this year.
“Last week,” Hamlin said, “I told everyone I would win. And I did. As such, I’m ‘back up’ the point standings.
“Everything went smoothly at Loudon, except for some concerns with our water temperature late in the race. I think all parties involved, including my baby’s momma, agreed that it was an inopportune time to have our water break.”
2. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson took the runner-up position for the second straight week and ascended to the top of the point standings. He now leads Brad Keselowski by one point, and Denny Hamlin by seven.
“Ask anybody who knows me,” Johnson said. “They’ll tell you I’m not used to finishing second. And speaking of ‘2’s,’ I want my fellow Chasers to have no choice but to use two hands when asked how many Cup titles I have.”
3. Brad Keselowski: After winning the Chase opener at Chicagoland last week, Keselowski finished sixth in the Sylvania300, posting his 17th top-10 of the year. He now trails Jimmie Johnson by one point in the Sprint Cup standings.
“Hamlin did what one would expect of me,” Keselowski said. “He went on Twitter last week and guaranteed a win. I wasn’t much of a factor in this race, so you didn’t hear a peep, much less a tweet, out of me.”
4. Tony Stewart: Stewart took seventh in theSylvania300 after leading 38 laps, scoring his third straight top-7 result. He is now fourth in the Sprint Cup point standings, ten out of first.
“Denny Hamlin ran a great race,” Stewart said. “Congratulations to Joe Gibbs Racing for their 100th win. I had a hand in many of those victories. I’ve had a hand in a lot of things; I’ve had a hand on a lot more. Just ask any driver who’s crossed me.”
5. Kasey Kahne: Kahne posted his ninth top-5 finish of the year and second of the Chase with a fifth at Loudon. He remained fifth in the Sprint Cup point standings and trails Jimmie Johnson by 15.
“The No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was fast,” Kahne said. “I’m certainly pleased with my sponsor, and they are pleased with me. I’m popular with Farmers Insurance, and even more popular with farmers’ daughters.”
6. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was the second-best Toyota at Loudon, coming home fourth in theSylvania300, which was dominated by Denny Hamlin. Bowyer is 15 points behind Hamlin in the point standings and still very much in the hunt for the Sprint Cup.
“Eastwood might,” Bowyer said, “but this ‘Clint’ doesn’t talk to empty chairs. Or do I? Hopefully, at the NASCAR banquet at year’s end, I will be talking to one empty chair, my own, when I, as champion, take the podium and address the other 11 drivers on the stage. Boy, would that ‘make my dais.’”
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon won the pole for the Sylvania300 and finished third behind race-winner Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. He is 12th in the point standings, 45 out of first.
“It must be a slow week in NASCAR,” Gordon said. “The biggest news is Kurt Busch signing with Furniture Row Racing for 2013. It’s a perfect fit, because Kurt’s had enough ‘seats’ to fill a furniture store.”
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt finished a disappointing 13th at Loudon, finishing in the same position he qualified. He is seventh in the point standings, 26 out of first.
“Obviously,” Earnhardt said, “I’ve got a lot on my mind. There’s the Chase, and then there’s my split with the Eury’s. I hate to lose those guys, but with my record, what’s another loss?”
9. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth led one lap and finished 14th in the Sylvania 300, following an 18th last week at Chicagoland. He is 11th in the Sprint Cup point standings, 35 behind Jimmie Johnson.
“I’m driving myself right out of the Chase,” Kenseth said. “Luckily, that’s on the way to Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Obviously, the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford is not fast enough. So, you could say I’m just going through the slow motions.”
10. Kevin Harvick: Harvick finished 11th in the Sylvania 300, and moved up two spots in the point standings to eighth. He trails Jimmie Johnson by 31.
“Finishing 11th accurately sums up my season,” Harvick said, “because it’s been a struggle to stay in the top 10 all year.”