Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 4/24/12

A second consecutive race at an intermediate track featuring long green flag runs once again separated the contenders from the pretenders. There were no lucky finishes on the Midwest plains on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, where drivers had to earn every spot in the finishing order.

This week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the short track at Richmond, where grit and grind determine a driver's finish as much as anything, but at Kansas the results were about pure speed. One driver was clearly the class of the field, but a slight faltering at the end opened the door to Victory Lane to another driver with a serious need for speed.

Up: Denny Hamlin

The championship runner-up malaise that affected the oft-moody native Virginia driver seems to finally be cast off. Hamlin scored his second victory of the season with new crew chief Darian Grubb on Sunday, taking the lead late and then holding off the dominant car of Martin Truex Jr. This Saturday the series heads to Richmond International Raceway, Hamlin's home track and one of his best, where he has two wins.

Down: Penske Racing

In the wake of Kurt Busch's troubled departure following the 2011 season, this year things haven't been quite the same for Penske Racing. Sure, Brad Keselowski got a nice win at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he sits just 15th in the standings after blowing the chance for a top-10 run at Kansas with trouble in the pits. New teammate A.J. Allmendinger led a bunch of laps early at Kansas but a variety of problems doomed him to a 32nd-place finish. He has just one top-10 so far in 2012, not what was expected from the 'Dinger and the No. 22 car.

Up: Martin Truex Jr.

After another impressive run by Martin Truex Jr. (arguably his best in several years), it's time to consider the No. 56 team as a legitimate Chase contender. Truex Jr. is second in the points and the only thing missing from his season resume is a win. At the rate he's runnning, that ought to come before very long. Provided his team gives him tires that agree with his car when the race win is on the line, that is.

Down: Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer, Truex Jr.'s new teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, didn't have quite the time in his native state that he was hoping for. In fact, he slipped out of the top 10 in the standings following an engine failure which led to a 36th-place finish. Bowyer has top-10's in just three of eight races so far in 2012, and he'll need to pick up the pace if he's serious about making the Chase with his new team.

Up: Roush Fenway Racing

Carl Edwards was once again the laggard of the three-car Roush Fenway stable, but a ninth-place result isn't bad and Edwards was gaining ground in the final laps at Kansas. Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle nabbed top-5 finishes in a display of RFR's continued strength at the intermediate tracks. Biffle leads the standings, with Kenseth third and Edwards ninth. Not too shabby.

Down: Engine durability

A lower gear ratio wreaked havoc on engines from every manufacturer but Ford. Drivers affected included the likes of Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch. No matter what was the cause of the rash of engine failures, it was a bad day for the guys in the engine shop, no two ways about it.

Up: Sam Hornish Jr.

19th place is nothing thrilling, but Special Sam (I think I just made that up) ran a good, solid race and even led a few laps late in the event. Hornish is currently fourth in the Nationwide standings and he no doubt hopes to return to the Cup Series full time at some point in the future. Not a bad showing for the former Indy 500 champion.

Down: Mark Martin

Clint Bowyer wasn't the only MWR driver to get hit by the bad engine bug on Sunday, as old-timer Mark Martin lost an engine and suffered a 33rd-place finish, his worst of the season by far. Martin isn't running for the championship, but even still, the finish had to sting after a solid fifth-place qualifying effort. The No. 55 car slipped to 11th in the owner points, still in contention for a spot in the owner's Chase for the Championship, if anyone keeps track of such things.

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