From the onset, the GoBowling.com 400 had the appearance of a runaway. That notion, however, vanished when a blown tire sent Jimmie Johnson into the wall, opening the door for a compelling race that saw one driver solidify his Chase prospects while others left Pocono facing uncertainty.
1. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 1)
Crumpled fenders, a taped up nose and Johnson still finished 13th? And he actually added to his already commanding points lead? Yeah, it's good to be the five-time champ.
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 3)
Though he hasn't made an appearance in Victory Lane since April, Busch has quietly had a very productive summer stretch. In his last nine starts he has a second, two fourths, a fifth and owns an average finish of 9.5.
3. Matt Kenseth (LW: 2)
Kenseth's all-or-nothing year continued at Pocono, as his 22nd Sunday was the sixth time he's finished 20th or worse this season. Don't expect much, if anything, from him at Watkins Glen. In 13 career starts, his best result is eighth (twice) and he has led just a single lap on the twisty road course.
4. Kasey Kahne (LW: 10)
In a way, Pocono was almost a season-defining victory for Kahne. As he's almost ensured of making the Chase and as crew chief Kenny Francis said afterward, the team is now in a position where it can gamble and aggressively pursue wins over the next five weeks.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 5)
From the first moment the No. 88 car hit the track at Pocono, Earnhardt had to deal with an unremitting vibration that crew chief Steve Letarte could never identify. Nevertheless, Earnhardt still managed to come home fifth, his third top-10 finish in his last four starts.
6. Tony Stewart (LW: 6)
When the green flag waves Sunday at Watkins Glen, it will officially end Stewart's run of 521 consecutive races without missing a start. His streak was third among active drivers, trailing only Gordon (710) and Jeff Burton (613).
7. Jeff Gordon (LW: 11)
If he fails to qualify for the Chase, you get the sense Gordon is going to look back at Pocono as the race he let get away. But in actuality, there wasn't much he could have done differently considering he was vying with his teammate for the win, which puts a cap on his aggressiveness.
8. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)
After finishing in the top 10 in nine consecutive races, Harvick has placed 17th and 19th the last two weeks. As you can probably surmise, he's another driver happy to see Pocono and Indy in the rearview mirror.
9. Ryan Newman (LW: 13)
With Stewart out indefinitely, Newman becomes the lone hope for Stewart-Haas Racing to continue its streak of placing a driver in the Chase every year of its existence. And as indicated by his performance in last two weeks with a win at Indy followed by a fourth at Pocono, he appears up to the challenge of bullying his way into the playoffs.
10. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7)
Three straight races without a top 10 and it's no coincidence that all of them came on flat tracks, a fact not lost on Bowyer. "Thank god we're off flat tracks for a while," he posted on Twitter.
11. Kurt Busch (LW: 12)
It feels like if Busch is going to make the Chase, he is going to have to will his way into the winner's circle sometime over the next five weeks. This is something he's more than capable of doing, but will a shaky pit crew be too much of a hurdle to overcome?
12. Carl Edwards (LW: 9)
Despite having just one top-five and three top-10 finishes in his last 10 races, Edwards just keeps plodding along. And yes, he is still somehow ranked third in points.
13. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 8)
It has been said in this space that Truex's postseason aspirations will hinge on whether he can win at Atlanta. And nothing that has transpired recently changes that opinion. The No. 56 is too inconsistent to climb into the top 10 in points, meaning his only path into the Chase is via the wild card.
14. Brad Keselowski (Unranked)
A productive weekend overall for Keselowski. On Saturday, Ryan Blaney took BK Racing to Victory Lane in the Truck Series race, and then Keselowski himself followed up with a Nationwide win later in the day at Iowa. This was capped with a sixth in the Cup race. All this gives the defending champ plenty of momentum heading into Watkins Glen, where he's finished runner-up the previous two years.
15. Greg Biffle (LW: 14)
The good news for Biffle was his 10th at Pocono represented his best finish in five weeks. However, he still fell two spots in the standings to 10th and desperately needs to recapture the magic he had back in June.