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 at the Auto Club 400, where Ryan Newman scored another top five finish, Kurt Busch struggled en route to losing the point lead, and Denny Hamlin suffered an engine failure.
The fact that Ryan Newman is two Daytona 500 accidents away from leading the Sprint Cup point standings has been beaten to death in this space, but it bears saying once again after Ryan recorded his third top-five finish in five races this season. His trio of fifth-place finishes, along with a tenth at Bristol, have more than offset his disappointing end in the 500.
Former point leader Kurt Busch continued the season-long trend of misery for the previous week's point leader. Never a factor behind the wheel of his Auto Club-sponsored Dodge Charger in the Auto Club-sponsored race at the Auto Club-sponsored track, Busch languished outside the top 20 for most of the race before placing 17th.
Keep reading for a look at the rest of the Coca-Cola Racing Family's California Adventure, which included a much-needed rebound for Clint Bowyer and another dismal day for Denny Hamlin.
Ryan Newman, 5th Place: Newman led briefly courtesy to pit strategy during a caution period just prior to halfway. His Chevrolet was present in the top 10 all day, and in the end, he surged to fifth during the late-race scramble. He now holds second in the Sprint Cup standings, just nine points back of leader Carl Edwards.
Clint Bowyer, 7th Place: For the first time in 2011, Bowyer's No. 33 Chevrolet ended a race in the top ten. He charged from his 17th-place starting spot to spend most of the race firmly near the front of the pack. With the solid performance, Bowyer jumped seven spots in the standings to 17th.
Greg Biffle, 11th Place: Biffle had his second-straight solid result after three poor finishes to open the year. After qualifying a dismal 32nd, he came up one spot shy of his second-straight top-ten of the year. He has gained 11 spots in the standings over the last two weeks and now sits 20th.
Tony Stewart, 13th Place: Stewart was furious after dropping from what looked like a sure top-five result to 13th at the checkered flag. He started a season-best fifth and ran in the top-five the entire day until the day's final restart, when his Chevrolet fell like a rock. He dropped three spots in the standings, to sixth.
Jeff Burton, 15th Place: The good news: despite a speeding penalty, Burton bettered his best result of the season for the fouth-straight race. The bad news: despite gaining four spots in the standings, he fell six points further outside the Chase. Now 54 points in arrears to 10th place, Burton's hopes of racing for this year's championship effectively hinge on one of the two wild card spots.
Kurt Busch, 17th Place: The curse of the point leader continued, as Busch was never close to being a factor en route to his 17th-place result. Making things doubly disappointing was that his No. 22 Dodge carried Auto Club sponsorship, rather than his usual Shell/Pennzoil colors. The disappointing finish in the race and on the track with whom he shared his weekend sponsor dropped him to third in the standings.
Jamie McMurray, 23rd Place: After winning the pole for both races at Fontana in 2011, hopes were high that McMurray could turn his disappointing season around. It was not to be, as he struggled to his fourth-straight finish outside the top-20. Dropping two spots to 28th, McMurray is an even 60 points out of the Chase.
Joey Logano, 25th Place: Logano recorded a season-best third-place qualifying effort, giving hope to the notion that he might contend for his second-career victory.After a race-morning engine change, Logano started shotgun on the field and was never a factor. He was black flagged for jumping the last restart and finally ended the day a miserable 25th, the last car on the lead lap.
Bobby Labonte, 38th Place: Labonte struggled throughout day before crashing late. Running four laps down at lap 186, his Toyota speared the turn three wall after a blowing a tire. His accident set up the race's thrilling, frantic finish, but the poor result dropped him four spots in the standings.
Denny Hamlin, 39th Place: Hamlin started second and looked strong early, leading 15 laps. He was running in the top-five when his Toyota gradually began losing power. Finally, after completing just 105 of the 200 circuits, he was retired from the race with yet another Joe Gibbs Racing engine failure. Back-to-back sub-30th place finishes have dropped him 13 spots in the standings.
Coca-Cola Racing Points Standings Update: Newman, Busch, and Stewart continue to sit amongst the top-ten in the standings, but no other Coca-Cola driver is in the top-15.
Leader: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford) 187 Points
2. Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet, was 3rd) -9
3. Kurt Busch (No. 22 Dodge, was 1st) -10
6. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet, was 3rd) -17
Outside the Chase
17. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Chevrolet, was 24th) -65 to leader, -35 to 10th (Matt Kenseth)
18. Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Toyota, was 14th) -66, -36
20. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford, was 23rd) -68, -38
21. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota, was 17th) -75, -45
25. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Chevrolet, was 29th) -84, -54
28. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet, was 26th) -90, -60
29. Joey Logano (No. 20 Toyota, was 30th) -94, -64
Fast Food For Thought: Through five races in his first two seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman sat 27th (2009) and 26th (2010). He had only one top-ten in that span, with six finishes of 22nd or worse. This year, he has four top-tens and his worst finish is 22nd in the Daytona 500.
This weekend: Denny Hamlin carries a three-race winning streak to Martinsville Speedway for the Goody's Fast Relief 500.