Tony Stewart proved last year there's no prerequisite for a driver to come into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with momentum.
This time a year ago, Stewart literally had none when he ended the regular season with a whimper rather than a roar.
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Of course, Stewart saved all his noise for when it mattered most, winning five of the 10 playoff races to score Sprint Cup title No. 3.
So rather than look at the top of the standings, perhaps the better plan would be to take a peek at the bottom.
That could mean big things for Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, who secured the two wild-card spots but actually wound up finishing 11th and 12th in the standings.
Sure, they'll start the playoff race next Sunday in Chicago at a disadvantage, since neither was eligible to use their regular-season victories as a means of seeding bonus points.
But maybe it won't be a mountain too steep to climb using Stewart's 2011 recipe for a title as inspiration.
"I felt like I won the race tonight," said Gordon, after his determined drive on Saturday. "When that was over, they told me I was in the Chase, we made it, I mean, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts. To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, then come up there and finish second, almost win the race, make it in by one point, man, I don't see any reason why we can't go over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship."
Dial it down, Jeff. Clearly after last year, that's not the attitude to take into the Chase.
|Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.|
|Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.|
|Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.|
|Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.|
|Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.|
|Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.|
|Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.|
|A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.|
|Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.|
|Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.|
|Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.|
|Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.|
|13||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.|
|An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.|