Dover’s over… who’s the winners and losers from race #2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup?

Winners

Jimmie Johnson: It should come as no surprise that the team and driver who has dominated the sport for the last four years has rebounded from some bad luck earlier in the season. Never has their performance been in doubt; they’ve always run well enough to win. However, especially during the summer, a dark cloud seemed to follow them, as they would always suffer a problem while running near the lead (see Bristol). But, come time for The Chase, this group always seems to kick any bad luck or ill will that was cast on them at any point and time, and make a run for a title. Their win at Dover is further proof of that and puts them firmly in contention after a tough race in New Hampshire.

Jeff Burton: From the “Where did he come from?” category, Burton enjoyed a very quiet day in Dover, only to show up in the top five around the halfway point, and then bring the car home second. In all, it was a typical Jeff Burton day: quiet, but very good. The only thing missing from him this season is a win. More runs like this will keep Burton in the running, and he should eventually break through. Don’t sleep on him through the final eight races.

Kurt Busch: It looked like a good day was going to derail when Busch sped on pit road and then lost his cool, as heard over the radio. But, in the second half, he managed to charge back up through the field and turn a bad day into a great day, coming home fourth. That resolve shows why he was able to win the title back in 2004, and it stands within reason that he might do so again. However, his small “blowup” over the radio is a little worrisome; he’ll need to keep his emotions in check when mistakes happen, especially if they’re on his part. But, for now, he was able to put it aside and finish up front.

Denny Hamlin: On what he has repeatedly acknowledged is his worst track (one that has taken a significant bite out of his title hopes for the last four years), Hamlin not only managed to keep the points lead, but finish ninth. Given his track record at the Monster Mile, this may feel like a win to him. Now, with their biggest hurdle (aside from Talladega) now out of their way, this driver and team may be primed for a true run at a championship. With his early-season inconsistency apparently solved, and if the mistakes that have plagued prior Chases are remedied, he and the team may be the favorites for the rest of the way.

Paul Menard/A.J. Allmendinger: With the Chasers hogging all the attention, it’s easy to miss just how well Menard and Allmendinger ran for Richard Petty Motorsports. Allmendinger dominated the early portion of the day until a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop, dropping two laps off the lead. But, like he did last week, the former Champ Car standout clawed back onto the lead lap, and brought the car home tenth, a fine effort for the trials and tribulations he faced. Menard, however, enjoyed a much smoother and quieter day, biding his time and slowly climbing up through the field to finish seventh. Neither driver may be ready to win yet, but they’re working themselves closer to it week-to-week, especially Allmendinger, who may well have won if not for that cut tire. They both deserve many accolades for taking headlines away from the Chasers on this day.

Losers

Matt Kenseth: After a 23rd-place finish at Loudon, Kenseth needed to have a good day at Dover in order to keep his title hopes from slipping away. But, after missing the pit road entrance during green-flag pit stops and then blowing a left-front tire, Kenseth’s title hopes may indeed be dwindling. While he managed to salvage an 18th place finish, he sits 163 points out of the lead and hasn’t shown the speed required to make up that ground on his own. If he is to get back into the hunt, he’ll need others to falter, a bad omen this early in The Chase. Kenseth is on the ropes.

Tony Stewart: Like Kenseth, Stewart needed to rebound this weekend after running out of fuel while leading at Loudon. His result: 21st, leaving another black mark on his second Chase appearance with his own team. Now 162 points out of the lead, Stewart is in the same position as Kenseth: in need or others to have trouble if he is to climb back into contention. While Stewart has been stronger than Kenseth this year, it is never good to be reliant on others suffering problems only two races into the playoffs. Stewart’s title hopes are also hurting.

Clint Bowyer: Stewart and Kenseth may have struggled at Dover, but no driver in the garage has experienced the fall-from-grace Bowyer has this week. After winning at Loudon, Bowyer seemed to be the title contender we didn’t see coming, jumping from 12th to second and standing only 35 points shy of leader Denny Hamlin, with the next track being Hamlin’s weakest in The Chase. However, the 150-point penalty (and assorted other deductions) put paid to any momentum they were carrying. In need of a good run at Dover to recover what they lost (assuming their penalty is upheld), Bowyer bounced off the back-stretch wall and never recovered, finishing a dismal 25th. Unless their appeal is good enough to overturn their point deductions (and not just reduce them, but outright overturn them), Bowyer and his team’s title chances may be over, as they sit in 12th, 235 points out of the lead.