Every Wednesday, SB Nation Atlanta takes a look at the racing fortunes of everybody's favorite Atlanta-based NASCAR sponsor: Coca-Cola! This week, we look back at the Jeff Byrd 500, where the season's theme of mixed fortunes continued.
Through the first three races of the Sprint Cup Season, the trend for the Coca-Cola Racing family was that some members had good days, some had mediocre days, and others had bad days. That trend continued in Bristol, where Kurt Busch led the Family with his 7th-place finish. Despite the worst top-finish of the year for a Coca-Cola Racing Family driver, he took sole control of the Sprint Cup points lead after entering the race tied with fellow Coke driver Tony Stewart.
Greg Biffle finally had a good finish, coming home eighth, but the struggle continued for Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Clint Bowyer.
Keep reading for a driver-by-driver recap of the Jeff Byrd 500, as well as an update on the points, where the picture is pretty for some and ugly as a mud fence for others.
Kurt Busch, 7th Place: Kurt was reportedly furious after the race at the track where he had won five times previously. Despite never leading, he did record his fourth top-ten finish in as many races this season, allowing him to take sole possession of the point lead for the first time since April 2009.
Greg Biffle, 8th Place: Biffle had his best run in what had been a miserable season, and his result could have been better. He restarted fourth late in the going but faded to eighth by the event's conclusion. Still, his first top-10 of 2011 was a significant pick-me-up after three awful weeks.
Ryan Newman, 10th Place: As we said after the Las Vegas event two weeks ago, Ryan is likely two late-race accidents in the Daytona 500 shy of topping the point standings. He had another solid performance Sunday, leading 26 laps courtesy of a pit-strategy call by crew chief Tony Gibson before finishing 10th for his third top-ten since Daytona.
Bobby Labonte, 13th Place: Bobby ran in the top-ten for much of the first half of the race, overcame a spin right at the halfway point, and recorded a solid top-15 finish. His performance bumped him up a spot in the standings to 14th.
Tony Stewart, 19th Place: Stewart had his worst run of 2011, struggling all race with a tight race car. The last car on the lead lap at the race's conclusion, Tony lost his share of the point lead that he had carried into Bristol, falling into a tie for third with teammate/employee Ryan Newman.
Jeff Burton, 20th Place: Burton had his fourth disappointing finish in a row to open the 2011 season, but it could have been much worse. His Chevy shut off in front of a pack of cars on lap 28, triggering a multi-car accident, and he also dealt with a loose wheel. Over the last 400 laps of the race he climbed from 36th to a season-best 20th.
Jamie McMurray, 21st Place: McMurray was caught in both of the day's multi-car accidents, dooming him to another less-than-stellar finish. Though his 21st-place run was his second-best of the season, his top performance of 19th in the Daytona 500 has him mired 47 points outside the Chase.
Joey Logano, 23rd Place: For the fourth consecutive race, Logano had a potential good finish spoiled by circumstances beyond his control. He ran among the top-10, seemingly destined to end his season-long streak of bad luck, when a broken wheel sent him into the wall in the race's closing laps.
Denny Hamlin, 33rd Place: Hamlin never had a prayer Sunday. His Toyota was damaged in the lap 28 melee, and he spent the remainder of the event riding around and trying to stay out of the way of the leaders. He ultimately finished a torturous 12 laps down and cost him nine spots in the standings.
Clint Bowyer, 35th Place: Another driver who has had a rough start to the year, Bowyer, piled into the back of Jamie McMurray in the second multi-car wreck, doing significant damage to the nose of his car. Things went from bad to worse when his engine blew 20 laps later.
Coca-Cola Racing Family Points Standings Update: Busch, Stewart, and Newman sit atop the standings and tied for third, respectively, but they are the only Coca-Cola Racing Family drivers currently in the top-10.
Point Leader: Kurt Busch (No. 22 Dodge)
3. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet, was first) -12
3. Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet, was fifth) -12
Currently Outside the Chase:
14. Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Toyota, was 15th) -35 to Leader, -8 to 10th (Martin Truex, Jr.)
17. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota, was eighth) -44, -17
23. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford, was 31st) -64, -37
24. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Chevrolet, was 18th) -66, -39
26. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet, was 29th) -74, -47
29. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Chevrolet, was 32nd) -76, -49
30. Joey Logano (No. 20 Toyota) -76, -49
Fast Food For Thought: After six finishes of seventh or better in the last nine races of 2010, Joey Logano has a trio of 23rd-place finishes and one 33rd this season.
This weekend: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, where Coca-Cola Racing Family driver Tony Stewart won the most recent event last October. Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch are also former winners at Fontana.