1. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski survived the last-lap pileup at Talladega intact and finished seventh. He remained on top of the Sprint Cup point standings and leads Jimmie Johnson by 14.
“It appears Lady Luck is on my side,” Keselowski said. “How else can you explain how I emerged from that mess with a seventh-place finish? So what you will, but I’ll never again complain about ‘women’ drivers.”
2. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet was one of several cars damaged in Talladega’s “Big One,” triggered by Tony Stewart on the final lap. Johnson is still second in the point standings, and now trails Brad Keselowski by 14.
“My car was so damaged,” Johnson said, “I had to hitch a ride back to the pits with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That was the first time a champion’s been in that car.”
3. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin finished 11th in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, one of the few cars that escaped the final lap melee unscathed. He held on to the third spot in the point standings, and is 20 behind Brad Keselwoski.
“I lost my rear view mirror about midway through Sunday’s race,” Hamlin said. “Luckily, it was replaceable, because I couldn’t see myself winning without it.
4. Jeff Gordon: Gordon led seven laps at Talladega and finished second, after navigating through the carnage that ensued when Tony Stewart was clipped by Michael Waltrip. Gordon now has three runner-up finishes in the Chase, but has made little ground in the point standings.
“It appears that, despite solid finishes,” Gordon said, “I won’t be able to make up much ground in the Chase. I’m sure some will argue that the Chase format needs more tweaking to reward cases such as mine. And I would be the first to ‘second’ that emotion.”
5. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth won in a wild finish at Talladega, pulling away for the victory as chaos reigned behind him. It was his second win of the season following his triumph at Daytona in February.
“That’s two superspeedway wins for me in which I persevered despite major incidents,” Kenseth said. “First it was Juan Montoya starting a fire, then it was Tony Stewart starting a wreck. Just call me the ‘Master Of Disaster.’
“It was shaping up to be a close finish, but after the crash, I ended up winning easily. With respect to my contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, you could say I won ‘going away.’”
6. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was in position to compete for the win in the closing moments at Talladega, but was collected in the “Big One,” triggered when Tony Stewart was turned while trying to move in front of Michael Waltrip.
“A win was in our sights,” Bowyer said, “and would have been a big lift to our championship hopes. As it was, Tony Stewart got a ‘lift,’ in the air and on my hood.
7. Tony Stewart: Stewart was leading on the final lap at Talladega, but with Michael Waltrip fast approaching, Stewart tried to move in front of the No. 55. It didn’t work, Stewart spun, and much of the field was affected in the pileup. Stewart finished 22nd, and is now 43 out of first in the point standings.
“I take full responsibility for the wreck,” Stewart said. “I said as much when I took to social media to explain on my new Twitter account, ‘@fault.’
“As you have heard, I’ve secure sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops for 18 races in 2013. I’m thrilled. I can’t wait until next year, when I can qualify first for a race and proudly proclaim it a ‘fishing pole.’”
8. Kasey Kahne: Kahne started on the pole and finished 13th after a wild, last-lap crash that saw Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevy on the hood of Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy. Kahne moved up two spots to fourth in the point standings, and is 37 out of first.
“Aric Almirola handed out 600 pounds of bacon to celebrate Gwaltney’s sponsorship of the No. 43 car,” Kahne said. “Interestingly enough, I later gave Stewart a ‘piggy-back’ ride on Sunday.”
9. Kevin Harvick: Harvick was battling up front, with a good chance to win, when the inevitable struck at Talladega. When the dust had cleared, Harvick had an 11th-place finish.
“The Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 certainly lived up to his name,” Harvick said. “At least the ‘Roadside Assistance” part. Kurt Busch lived up to the name, as well, at least the ‘Roadside Ass’ part.”
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt finished 21st after order was restored in the aftermath of a massive final-lap crash that left much of the field in wrecked cars. Earnhardt is now 11th in the point standings, 58 out of first.
“Despite the damage to my car,” Earnhardt said, “I was still able to give Jimmie Johnson a ride back to the pits. It felt good to be able to return the favor, because Jimmie’s ‘carried’ this team for so long.
“Drivers may not like it, but fans love racing at Talladega. And I’m all about giving the fans what they want, as long as it’s overpriced merchandise bearing my likeness and not wins.”