WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – There are four races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup title, and the road race on Sunday at Watkins Glen shuffled the standings.
Clint Bowyer was the biggest loser, falling out of the top 12 as Mark Martin replaced him for the final spot, 10 points ahead of Bowyer.
"We're making progress," said Martin, who finished 19th and stayed out in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy during a caution to lead two laps and pick up five valuable bonus points.
"We're not where we need to be, but we're battling as hard as we can go. We've got to pick it up. If we can do that, keep gaining momentum in these last four, then we've got a shot at it. But if we trip and stumble anywhere, it will be curtains."
Bowyer started 34th in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy and was up to 14th just past the midpoint of the 90-lap race before a broken mount sent him to the garage for repairs. He finished 31st.
"It's just frustrating," Bowyer said. "We broke a piece of the car. The guys did a good job getting it welded up and getting back out there. As far as I'm concerned, it's catastrophic for now."
Points leader Kevin Harvick had a top-10 run going, but a flat tire cost him several positions on the final lap and he ended up 11th. That was one spot ahead of Ryan Newman, who gained one position in the standings to 14th, 83 points behind Martin and just nine ahead of Jamie McMurray.
"We gained in the big picture," Newman said. "We're still out, still not where we want to be. We'll keep going."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started the race in 40th and complained that it was the worst car he'd ever had at Watkins Glen, finished 26th and fell two spots to 16th, 121 points behind Martin and a dozen points ahead of Kasey Kahne.
Greg Biffle, coming off his first victory of the season, ran consistently in the top 10 over the first 50 laps but was involved in a fender-bender and finished 24th. He remained 11th in the standings, 102 points ahead of Martin.
Despite running strong throughout the race, Denny Hamlin finished 37th after a late-race crash with reigning four-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, who finished 28th.
"I had just been working my way up through there and had contact from behind," said Johnson, who had rallied after getting an early flat tire. "I'm not really sure what all took place, but I got hit from behind."
"Dive-bombing. It's just so stupid. We're not even racing for the win," Hamlin said. "That's part of it, I guess. It's just frustrating. At the end, guys just going for it."
SMOKE GETS SMOKED: Tony Stewart lost his Watkins Glen mojo — for one race.
Stewart, who had won four of the previous six races at The Glen and finished second the two times he didn't win, never challenged for the lead in Sunday's Cup race despite starting sixth.
Any chance for a late-race charge was derailed by some banging with road racer Boris Said coming out of the first turn of the 11-turn circuit.
"That idiot tried to run us straight off the racetrack," Stewart yelled over his radio.
Said, who started 13th in the No. 83 Toyota and ran in the top 10 for most of the first half of the race, just shrugged in dismay.
"I guess he was just doing his deal and I was doing my deal and our deals collided," Said said. "I didn't know he was there. I don't know if I could do anything else. It was a great car. I had so much fun. I just feel bad for these guys. They gave me wings, but I didn't expect to be flying around in circles."
BUSCH BROTHERS EXCEL: Kurt Busch had his best finish on a road course, and brother Kyle wasn't too shabby, either.
Kurt, who qualified fifth for Sunday's Cup race at Watkins Glen, finished second in his blue No. 2 Penske Dodge to Juan Pablo Montoya, passing Aussie road race ace Marcos Ambrose for the runner-up spot with two laps to go.
"We battled hard," said Kurt, who won the pole and had the dominant car four years ago at The Glen, only to be foiled by a bad pit call at midrace. "Second place, and we got by Ambrose at the end, it feels good to do that on a road course."
Kyle's drive was even more impressive. Forced to the pits during the warmup laps to fix a loose piece of lead under the back of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, he started at the rear of the field and finished eighth with a banged-up front end.
"The guys gave me a deep starting spot on the preparation. It was decent anyway," said Kyle, who swept both Cup road races two years ago and also won the Nationwide race in Mexico to set a NASCAR record for most road wins in a season. "I felt like I was losing a little bit there from where I was in 2008. But overall, I passed a lot of cars."
HALL OF FAME MAVEN: It's probably only a matter of time before former NASCAR Cup champ Rusty Wallace becomes a Hall of Famer, so when he got the chance to make a side trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he was there in a flash.
"It was really exciting," said the 53-year-old Wallace, who won 36 poles and 55 races before retiring in 2005 and morphing into a racetrack owner and TV commentator. "To walk in there and actually hold Babe Ruth's ball bat, looking at all the notches on it for every time he hit a home run, to see all the jerseys and actually touch his contract is pretty wild."
Wallace, in Watkins Glen for the NASCAR Nationwide and Cup races, said he was impressed with how well-organized the Baseball Hall of Fame is and how well it's preserved the game's past.
During his visit, Wallace said baseball fans were asking him what it was going to feel like when he gets into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opened earlier this year.
"I kept telling them, 'I don't know what it's going to feel like until the day that happens,'" said Wallace, who captured his Cup title in 1989. "My gosh, I hope it happens because I don't want to jinx it."
SPARK PLUGS: Chevy drivers have won 11 poles and 16 of 28 races at Watkins Glen. ... Scott Blake, a top executive with Heluva Good!, title sponsor for the Cup race at Watkins Glen, was the grand marshal. ... Geoff Bodine, Ernie Irvan and Steve Park had a reunion to celebrate Watkins Glen's 25th anniversary of NASCAR racing. Bodine said he was still itching to drive and was working on something for 2011. ... Brad Keselowksi blew an engine in practice and started from the rear of the field on Sunday.