Just as he was five weeks ago when NASCAR's playoffs began, Matt Kenseth continues to lead the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings at the halfway point.
Though it appeared for much of Saturday's Bank of America 500 he would lose grip on the No. 1 spot as he had to overcome a lackluster effort in qualifying that saw him start 20th, Kenseth in fact added to his margin over second-place Jimmie Johnson.
A late caution for debris that Johnson didn't agree with not only erased his sizeable but allowed Kenseth to charge and place third. Meanwhile, Johnson fell to fourth in the final rundown after a hiccup on the subsequent restart saw him get loose and nearly wreck.
"In the big picture, it was a great night," Kenseth said. "We have to be able to run in the top-five every night and tonight we definitely had a top-five car all night and it just took all night to get there."
For Johnson it was a disappointing end to a night where he led 138 laps and was set to seize the points lead from Kenseth until the fateful -- and controversial -- yellow flag waved with 26 laps to go. Instead, he lost a point to Kenseth and with five races remaining Johnson is four points behind his adversary.
"We led some laps tonight, had a good car," Johnson said. "I'm not sure what happened in the points, but I know it's awfully tight up there right now."
Sitting third overall is Kevin Harvick, who also rallied in the latter stages to finish sixth. The winner the week before at Kansas finds himself 29 points out of the lead. Rounding out the top-five is Jeff Gordon (-36 behind Kenseth) and Kyle Busch (-37), who finished seventh and fifth at Charlotte respectively.
The top-five finish was Busch's fourth in five Chase races. However, in each instance he has lost ground in the championship and will need something to befall Kenseth and Johnson if he is to win his first Cup title.
"They say you need top-fives to win a championship," Busch said. "But when you're getting beat by the guys in front of you, then we're just not good enough -- flat-out. "I don't know what to do to be better.
"It's frustrating, but you know, (we) should be happy with a fifth, but we're not -- I'm not."
Sprint Cup Series Standings
|9||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2159||-66||0|
|16||Martin Truex Jr.||828||-1397||1|