Coming into the Pepsi Max 400, much had been made about how this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup was the closest ever, with the championship battle wide open. That all changed at Auto Club Speedway Sunday afternoon, as Chasers Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson claimed the top three spots in the race, but a lot of their fellow title contenders self-destructed. Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch lost engines, Kurt Busch crashed late and Jeff Burton was terrible for most of the race. Here’s how things shake out with four of 10 races complete in this year’s edition of the Chase. —Tom Jensen For more motorsports coverage, check out SPEED.com
Clint Bowyer (247 points behind leader)
Started 13th, finished second in California — How much did the penalty hurt Bowyer? Even with his New Hampshire victory and a runner-up finish at ACS, he’s still 247 points behind Johnson.
Matt Kenseth (241 points behind leader)
Started third, finished 30th in California — The 2003 champion, a long shot when the Chase began, like Biffle lost an engine in his Roush Fenway Ford, with Kenseth’s failing the closing laps. He’s done.
Greg Biffle (215 points behind leader)
Started seventh, finished 41st in California — See Kyle Busch above. Biffle’s motor broke in the early stages of the race, knocking him out of contention just one week after he fought his way back in with a victory at Kansas.
Kyle Busch (187 points behind leader)
Started 16th, finished 35th in California — A blown engine has effectively ended Busch’s chances at winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. At least Busch thinks so. And if he’s conceded his title hopes, there’s no way the team rallies back to take the big prize.
Jeff Burton (177 points behind leader)
Started 15th, finished 23rd in California — While his two Richard Childress Racing teammates were strong all race long, Burton had a miserable day, never really showing any speed and finishing in the second half of the field.
Carl Edwards (162 points behind leader)
Started 20th, finished 34th in California — Two years ago, Edwards lost the title with phantom ignition problems at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sunday at ACS, a broken distributor cost him dearly. Edwards is now the first driver more than one full race behind in points.
Kurt Busch (140 points behind leader)
Started 38th, finished 21st in California — It wasn’t Busch’s fault, but when David Ragan drifted up into him at the exit of Turn 4 on Lap 193, it cost him a top-10 finish and critical points. It was a frustrating weekend for Busch, who never was one of the fast cars.
Tony Stewart (107 points behind leader)
Started 22nd, won in California — A strong victory run at ACS on top of last week’s top five has all of a sudden put the two-time champion back into the title mix after it seemed like he was out for good. Stewart definitely will be someone to keep an eye on.
Jeff Gordon (85 points behind leader)
Started 17th, finished ninth in California — Half full or half empty? Gordon had a car good enough to win and threw it away with a pit-road speeding penalty. But he came all the way back from 25th to finish in the top 10 in the closing laps, averting what could have been a disaster.
Kevin Harvick (54 points behind leader)
Started 21st, finished sixth in California — Nailed early with a pit-road speeding penalty, Harvick persevered and made lemonade out of a lemon. If he goes on to win the title, saving a good finish today will be a big reason why.
Denny Hamlin (36 points behind leader)
Started 34th, finished eighth in California — Hamlin still hasn’t led a lap in the Chase, which makes it pretty remarkable that he’s second in points at this juncture. To finish in the top 10 at ACS was good for Hamlin, as this isn’t one of his better tracks.
Started eighth, finished third in California — A bit of a mixed bag for Johnson, as he wasn’t able to win here after winning three of the prior four California races. On the other hand, he widened his points lead to 36 over Denny Hamlin.