Sorting through the winners and losers from the NASCAR weekend that was at Talladega Superspeedway:
When you can leave Talladega and still remain atop the standings, you know you've done something right. Not only did Brad Keselowski keep his lead by finishing seventh, he was able to increase it over his primary rivals – 14 points over Jimmie Johnson and 23 over Denny Hamlin. Obviously, it's not a substantial margin, but enough of one where if Keselowski can continue his torrid pace – he has 13 top-10 finishes in the last 14 races – he'll finally be able to deliver Roger Penske the owner's first Sprint Cup Series championship.
At the time, it was a shot worth taking. But ultimately, the pairing of the immensely talented (but highly volatile) Kurt Busch with the hungry and scrappy bunch known as Phoenix Racing was doomed to fail. Phoenix couldn't supply the equipment Busch needed to be competitive, and if the 2004 champ isn't contending for victories, his contentious personality can wear thin. But through the ups and downs, everyone at Phoenix persevered and in the end they can keep their heads held high and be proud of the effort they put forth.
Even though his final season with Roush Fenway Racing isn't going to end the way he had hoped, Matt Kenseth was still able to get back to Victory Lane one last time with his soon-to-be former team. And as was evident afterwards, the win was very meaningful to both Kenseth and Jack Roush.
The win also cemented Kenseth's reputation as the best plate racer in NASCAR, a claim which is backed up by the fact that in four starts this year at Daytona and Talladega, he has scored two wins and two thirds.
Jeff Gordon had been sensational since Labor Day, having finished third or better six times in seven races. But the effects of the mechanical failure and subsequent wreck at Chicago are still being felt, as Gordon is still 42 points out of first. And with no track left on the Chase schedule that will throw a curveball at the competition to the degree that Talladega did, it's going to take a grand miracle for the four-time champion to win title No. 5.
There was Tony Stewart leading on the final lap in the final corner and speeding to a possible win. At the very least, he seemed destined to finish somewhere in the top 10. And if that would have played out accordingly, the owner-driver would still be in decent shape to repeat his championship run from a year ago.
But it wasn't to be, as Stewart attempted to block the charging Michael Waltrip and in doing so, set off a 25-car pileup. The resulting wreck sent Stewart for a tumble and all but burst his championship bubble.
Jamie McMurray hasn't finished a race inside the top 10 since June and on the year, has done so on just three occasions. But on Sunday and on a track where he's had a lot of success, the 2010 winner of the Daytona 500 led the most laps and had a chance to at least partially salvage his disappointing season.
However, much like his year, the day ended with frustration. Four laps from the finish, McMurray went for a spin through the grass and ended the day four laps down in 34th.