KANSAS CITY, Kan. — NASCAR's championship race tightened considerably Sunday at Kansas Speedway, where Greg Biffle won to keep his title hopes alive, and Jimmie Johnson returned to the top of the Sprint Cup leaderboard.
Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, took a mediocre car and drove it to a second-place finish behind Biffle. It pushed him past Denny Hamlin in the standings, and he's got an eight-point cushion after the third of 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship races.
Only once since the Chase began in 2004 has the eventual champion left Kansas ranked lower than second in the standings. But this is suddenly the closest battle in Chase history, as the top seven finishers Sunday were title contenders.
The field heads next week to California with the top nine drivers separated by 101 points.
"It's a great position to be in, but it's way too early to think about it, to worry about defending," Johnson said. "You have Chase guys running so good each and every week. Until that checkered falls in Homestead, it's anybody's championship."
Biffle suddenly finds himself in that mix. He opened the day ranked ninth in the standings, 140 points behind the leader. His second win of the season cut the mark nearly in half: He moved up one spot to eighth and is just 85 points behind the leader.
"Everybody asked me if we were out of it, and I said we're going to do the best we can," the Roush-Fenway Racing driver said. "If we win them all, we win them all."
Kyle Busch had the worst race of all Chase drivers because of a long-running feud with non-title contender David Reutimann.
Contact between the two early in the race caused Reutimann to spin, and he came back and appeared to intentionally wreck Busch with 112 laps remaining. Busch was running seventh at the time of the accident, and he dropped back to 22nd before finishing 21st.
Busch was furious over his radio, demanding NASCAR take action against Reutimann. Crew chief Dave Rogers heightened the drama by telling Busch that Reutimann's team demanded he retaliate against Busch.
Busch took time after the race to change out of his firesuit before speaking to reporters, and he was much calmer about the incident.
"Whatever. It's just really unfortunate," Busch said. "The guy was loose, said it on the radio, he slid up off the bottom and I got into him unintentionally and just spun him out. My fault, 100 percent. But then the retaliation? For a guy that's in the Chase, that's racing for something ... he'll be here next year. He could have wrecked me in any of the first 26 races next year. That would have been fine.
"It's just hard to swallow something, a day like today, where we had a top-five car going."
Busch dropped from third to seventh in the standings and is 80 points behind Johnson.
Reutimann didn't admit that he intentionally wrecked Busch but had no guilt for tangling with a championship contender.
"You guys can sugarcoat it all the time, but he wrecked me," he said. "You can tell me how bad he wants it, how hard he drives, how much he wants it above everybody else. That's all fine. I don't care if you're in the Chase or not. You need to think about who you're running over when you're running over them.
"If you're in the Chase, you have as much responsibility to drive with respect as I do, or anybody else."
Carl Edwards wasn't able to win Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, but his sixth-place finish helped him improve two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. He is now in fourth place, 53 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.