Without a miracle, what looked to be a likely championship season for Jimmie Johnson is over.
All that's left for him is winning races, and that's just fine with Johnson.
Johnson became the first driver to sweep the season races at Lowe's Motor Speedway since the late Dale Earnhardt in 1986, winning the UAW-GM Quality 500 on Saturday night.
But the victory did little to help his title hopes. After dominating the season for almost seven months, bad luck has left Johnson stuck in eighth place in the standings -- a mountainous 227 points behind leader Kurt Busch.
"You know what? We've just been enjoying each week and not letting ourselves get too serious and not put too much pressure on ourselves," Johnson said. "But it's been tough, no doubt."
Had this been any other season, Johnson would likely have wrapped up the title by now.
But this is the first year of NASCAR's new 10-man, 10-race playoff system, and Johnson hasn't had much success since it started. Consecutive finishes of 32nd or worse the past two weeks ended his title hopes. Now he knows nothing short of a collapse from Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon will help him get back in the hunt.
"I think we still have hopes, but I think it is out of our control," Johnson said. "It is going to require Jeff, [Earnhardt and Busch] to have some bad luck to put us back in a window where we can control it."
For a brief moment Saturday night, it looked as if Johnson might get it.
Scott Riggs missed a shift at the start of the race that prevented him from taking off. He tried to get his car out of the way, but there was too much traffic behind him and a chain-reaction crash stacked up behind him.
It caused minor damage to Busch and Gordon, who had to pit several times to make repairs.
When racing resumed, Busch was 38th and Gordon 40th.
Still, Gordon rebounded to finish second and Busch was fourth. Earnhardt was third.
Busch holds a 24-point lead over Earnhardt and Gordon is 74 points back.
Busch survived a series of close-calls to get his finish, including dodging several wrecks and driving through oil on the track that nearly caused him to spin.
"It was the adventures of Kurt Busch and team today," Busch said.
Gordon had his own rotten day, spinning out midway through the race and fighting to fix an ill-handling car. Somehow or another, the four-time series champion managed to pull it together and salvage the night.