CHARLOTTE - This season was supposed to have the most competitive title race since the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format began six years ago.
Instead, it has been the Jimmie Johnson show.
With only two races remaining to crown the 2009 champion, Mark Martin is the only driver with a realistic shot of dethroning Johnson. But with a 73-point cushion, Johnson needs to hold steady the next two weeks to win a record fourth consecutive championship.
So what went wrong?
Here's a look at the trials and tribulations of the drivers who were expected to challenge Johnson when the Chase started eight weeks ago, only to be left behind the No. 48 team:
Martin, second in points, 73 out: He opened the Chase with a win at New Hampshire. The sentimental favorite, Martin stayed neck-and-neck with Johnson through the first four rounds. His trouble came at Charlotte, when he ran into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya on a restart and could not overcome the hole in the front of his No. 5 Chevrolet.
Jeff Gordon, third in points, 112 out: His Chase got off to a bad start with a mediocre 15th-place finish in the New Hampshire opener that stuck him in a significant hole. But he ran great the next five weeks, grabbing five finishes of sixth or better, including two second-places. Then came Talladega, where he ran out of fuel late and finished 20th to lose more ground to Johnson.
Kurt Busch, fourth in points, 171 out: Busch ran well most of the Chase, just not good enough to keep pace with Johnson. An 11th at Kansas caused him to fall back from the leaders, and a 17th at Martinsville in his only real off race sort of sealed his fate.
Tony Stewart, fifth in points, 178 out: The two-time series champion is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Chase. Although he did win at Kansas to gain some of his swagger back, he has fallen off the pace he set as he cruised to a sizable "regular season" points lead.
Juan Pablo Montoya, sixth in points, 236 out: The biggest surprise of the Chase, Montoya has run much better than his spot in the standings shows. He opened the Chase with four top-four finishes. But he crashed there and any chance he had to recover was lost when he ran out of gas at Talladega, finishing 19th, then wrecking last week at Texas to finish 37th.
Denny Hamlin, eighth in points, 322 out: Hamlin was off at Dover to fall back in the standings, but he rallied and was back in contention at California until he wrecked while leading with about 60 laps to go. An engine failure the next week at Charlotte made his win at Martinsville a moot point.
Carl Edwards, 11th in points, 440 out: His season has been so mediocre, the preseason pick to win the title was not even considered a factor once the Chase began. He has one top-10 finish in eight Chase races, while an engine failure at Charlotte and a crash last week at Texas gave him two finishes of 39th.