Entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup the tracks seen as the wildcards were the usual suspects, Martinsville, Talladega and to a lesser degree, New Hampshire. But lo and behold it was Kansas Speedway that may ultimately have thrown the biggest curveball in deciding the championship.
Thanks to a surface that was more comparable to ice than asphalt, along with a hard tire compound and cooler temps, the word most used by drivers to describe Sunday's race was "treacherous."
And not surprisingly, the two best drivers and teams throughout the season adjusted accordingly and still reside in the top two positions -- both in the series standings and this week's NASCAR power rankings.
1. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 2)
Had a faster car than where he finished (sixth), but considering his motor issues on the penultimate lap, Johnson was more than satisfied with the result.
2. Matt Kenseth (LW: 1)
The 20 team has feasted on mile-and-a-half tracks this season. This was why it was a surprise to see Kenseth struggle noticeably at Kansas -- a place he won at in April -- as he never got comfortable with Goodyear's multi-zone tire. Yet, despite several close calls and getting trapped a lap down, Kenseth was still able to finish 11th, and in doing so remains the championship leader. And if he does go on to win a second title, it's easy to think Kansas will be the weekend where he looks back at as where the championship was decided.
3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)
Never known as a prolific qualifier, Harvick, on those rare instances he does secure the pole-position, certainly makes the most of it. As Kansas represents the third time in six races that he has gone on to win from the pole.
4. Kyle Busch (LW: 3)
While he his older brother made chicken salad out of you know what, the younger Busch had a weekend that causes one to seek solace in the shape of a whiskey bottle. To recap: He wrecked his primary car in Saturday practice, spun out not once but twice Sunday -- the second time terminal -- and continued his streak of never having finished in the top-five at Kansas.
5. Jeff Gordon (LW: 6)
The tenacity exhibited by Gordon throughout the Chase has been entertaining to witness. At 42, he may be graying and no longer in his prime, but there is no doubting the effort he continually puts forth. And at some point, you'd think he'd be rewarded with a couple of trips to the winner's circle. Alas, that has yet to occur.
6. Kurt Busch (LW: 9)
Starting in a backup car on a track where passing is tricky usually is a recipe for a long and arduous afternoon. Apparently, however, no one told this to Busch, who impressively drove to a runner-up finish. He should also be stout at Charlotte where he was second in May and would have likely won were it not for a slow final pit stop.
7. Carl Edwards (LW: 7)
The quest to get that inaugural win on his home track will have to wait another year. Regardless, Edwards bounced back nicely from his mechanical woes at Dover to finish fifth Sunday.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 8)
As he has done throughout the year, Earnhardt (eighth) produced another solid, consistent day. But again, unless he can find Victory Lane sometime in the next six weeks it's hard not to think of this year as anything other than unfilled for NASCAR's most popular driver.
9. Joey Logano (LW: 12)
No surprise Logano led 33 laps and ran fourth at Kansas, as the intermediate tracks are where he has made the proverbial hay this season. All of which means if someone were to break the monopoly the Joe Gibbs Racing cars and Kevin Harvick have had on the 1.5-milers and win at Charlotte, Logano would certainly be on that list.
10. Greg Biffle (LW: 8)
Another nondescript outing saw the No. 16 team finish 12th at Kansas. That said, thanks to his consistency -- along with avoiding those ugly finishes that are difficult to overcome -- Biffle, surprisingly, sits in the sixth position the standings.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 11)
Although he did improve eight positions from where he started (22nd) to where he finished (14th), the native Kansan had neither the speed nor the grip level he wanted to procure his first win on his home track. He might have better luck at Charlotte, where he won a year ago.
12. Ryan Newman (LW: 10)
Before Kansas, Newman, at best, had a remote shot of factoring into the championship picture. But that possibility disappeared thanks to a crash-induced 35th, which dropped him five spots in the standings to 12th overall, 73 points out of first.
13. Brad Keselowski (LW: 13)
Properly surmising the kind of season the defending Sprint Cup champion has amassed, he led 52 laps at Kansas and finished 17th.
14. Jamie McMurray (LW: 14)
The speed and consistency McMurray has shown as of late -- he entered with four finishes of 11th or better in the previous five races -- wasn't visible at Kansas. It's worth noting that Charlotte represent the three-year anniversary of the last time he won a Cup race.
15. Kasey Kahne (LW: 15)
How woeful has Kahne been thus far in the Chase? Four races in and he has yet to record a finish better than 13th. An astounding stat when you realize how well the Chase and the 10 tracks that make up the playoffs play into Kahne's strengths as a driver.