Here's a look back at the winners and losers from the NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Despite guiding Kevin Harvick to consecutive third-place finishes in points, Gil Martin found himself reassigned in the offseason. But after his replacement, Shane Wilson, failed to click to with Harvick and the No. 29 team wallowed in mediocrity, Martin was asked to return as crew chief.
Although it may have just been a single race, Harvick returned to the form he showed the last two years, as he led a race-high 106 laps and finished fifth on Sunday night. That result was his best since a runner-up finish at Dover and he snapped a five-race dry spell where he finished no better than 13th. And it's not a coincidence this all happened with Martin back atop the pit box.
NASCAR has stressed the importance of winning over the last couple years, and that philosophy will be on full display at Richmond, as five drivers will enter the weekend knowing that a win will secure a Chase berth. That mentality should lead to a drama-filled race not lacking for excitement or storylines. If fans can't get excited about this possibility, I don't know what to tell you.
Following his triumph at Bristol, Denny Hamlin became the first driver to go to Victory Lane in back-to-back weeks. More important, it was his fourth win of 2012, ensured the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will start the Chase no worse than tied for the points lead and firmly established Hamlin as bona fide threat to win his first series title.
Armed with four fresh tires and sitting third on a restart with two laps to go, Jeff Gordon was in the exact position he needed to be in. But it still wasn't enough, as he couldn't find a way around Denny Hamlin and the victory he sorely needed went bye-bye. And all Gordon could do afterward was lament about not being more aggressive, which begs the question: Desperately needing a victory, why wasn't the four-time champ willing to do whatever he needed to do to get that win?
Martin Truex Jr.
Up until the last five laps of the AdvoCare 500, it had been a pretty good weekend for Martin Truex Jr. On Friday he, along with sponsor Napa, signed contract extensions with Michael Waltrip Racing, and Truex was clearly ahead and on his way to winning for the first time in five years. But a late yellow erased his comfortable lead and he ended the night fourth in the final rundown. More discouraging, his winless streak grew to a 192 races and counting.
Considering his improbable title run a year ago, it would be silly to discount Tony Stewart's chances of repeating. But yet again, the defending champ is limping into the Chase with finishes of 19th, 32nd, 27th and 22nd in the last four weeks. On top of all that, it was confirmed this weekend that Office Depot will not be returning as Stewart's primary sponsor next season.