When it was over Saturday, the results of the UAW-GM 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway made perfect sense.
Jimmie Johnson completed a season's sweep at Charlotte by winning his fifth Nextel Cup race of the season. Kurt Busch notched another top-five finish and kept the lead in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Drivers in the championship Chase swept the top-four spots, and nine of the 10 finished in the top 14.
The road to those eventualities, however, was a treacherous path.
Eighty laps into the race, for example, the idea that Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon would finish 1-2 seemed ludicrous.
By that point, Kasey Kahne was burying the field behind his strong No. 9 Dodge and Gordon's team was trying to piece his Chevrolet back together after his second mishap of the evening.
Kahne remained dominant to the 400-mile mark before he hit the wall.
Afterward, "what ifs" were flying.
What if Busch hadn't made it through the first-lap wreck relatively unscathed? Greg Biffle got the worst of that wreck, and he wound up 33rd. Had Busch finished 33rd, he'd be third in the points today, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would lead Gordon by 50.
What if Gordon's car had been damaged as badly as Rusty Wallace's was in their Lap 76 wreck? Today, we'd be looking at Busch vs. Earnhardt Jr. head-to-head with five races left in the Chase.
What if Earnhardt Jr. hadn't been penalized for inappropriate language after his Talladega win? Earnhardt Jr. would be one point ahead of Busch and 75 up on Gordon heading to Martinsville.
And finally, what if the Chase for the Nextel Cup format didn't exist?
Adding up the points that way, Gordon would now lead Earnhardt Jr. by one point with five races to go.
We're halfway through the 10 Chase races.
At halfway, the UAW-GM 500 looked like a cakewalk for Kahne. But it wasn't over at halfway.
Neither is the Chase.