Call it honesty or sandbagging, but the biggest story of the Geico 400 from the Chicagoland Speedway was about the man of the day, which was 40-year-old Tony Stewart, who captured this year's Chase opener in grand style.

Heading into this season's playoffs, Stewart wasn't liking his chances to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Simply put, he limped his way last month to just cling on to his top-10 spot in the points standings.

However, he's been recently charging his way back to the front of the pack, as he placed third at Atlanta and finished seventh at Richmond.

Those strong performances brought some much needed momentum for the Stewart-Haas Racing stable, particularly with Stewart's, continuing his streak by saving enough fuel to win Monday afternoon's race.

Still, he kept himself humble even after a rousing victory at the Joliet, IL track.

"One day doesn't change the whole season," Stewart said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article.

Perhaps that very statement will be the one that transcends volumes with all of the Chase contenders at some point during the final 10 races, such as the case for those who struggled with fuel mileage or the handle with their cars.

For eight of the top-12 drivers, it was a solid day for them, as they placed in the top-10 finishing order, even with the fuel mileage scrambles late in the going. 

Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski all took home top-five finishes, which certainly boosted their Chase efforts in grand style. 

Harvick built on his win at Richmond two weekends ago with a solid second-place effort while Earnhardt captured his first top-five effort since a runner-up at Kansas Speedway in June.

"When he (crew chief Gil Martin) turned me loose, I probably should have just listened to him, I was really gun shy," Harvick said.

Still, Harvick walked away from Chicagoland with the points lead, holding a seven point advantage over Stewart as the Cup circuit prepares for 300 miles and laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday (Live at 2 PM ET on ESPN).

Earnhardt surged his way from the top-10 running order to take home a podium finish, as he urged his way home via fuel conservation mode.

“Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel," said Earnhardt,. "But we were running really well at the end."

Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Kurt Busch, who led a race-high 64 laps, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson appeared to be in command of the race towards the closing laps, but the fuel mileage game cost him a shot at his second victory of 2011. Instead of a capturing a win, he had to settle for a 10th-place finish.

The same could not be said for the rest of the Chase racers, as Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon were all bitten by the fuel mileage bug which dug them in a tremendous hole just one event into the title race.

Kenseth was on his way to at least a top-15 finish until J.J. Yeley illegally bumped him to the start/finish line on the final lap, which is a rules violation in NASCAR racing.

A fellow competitor cannot help their peer on the track on the white flag, which cost Kenseth valuable positions and points in the final rundown.

Busch and Gordon were well on their way to salvaging a somewhat mediocre day at Chicagoland before they also ran out of fuel, which placed them in the 22nd and 24th positions, respectively.

"It was definitely not the race we wanted to start the Chase off with," Gordon said. "We’re going to fight like crazy these next nine races and we could still get it done."

Of all the Chasers' days at Chicagoland on Monday afternoon, nobody had it worse than Denny Hamlin, who experienced a myriad of issues that relegated him to a 31st-place finish.

A vibration coupled with a flat tire late in the race kicked off a frustrating title effort for the man who nearly pulled the upset last year for the championship.

Just six days remain until the next Chase race, which is one where Clint Bowyer, who missed the title cut this year, hopes to redeem himself with a win at "The Magic Mile" while Gordon and Kyle Busch hope to make up for lost ground with solid showings at the Loudon, NH-based flat track.

Here's a look at the top-12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings heading into Loudon next Sunday, with racers' teams, manufacturers, and wins (if any) are listed in the parentheses:

  1. Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/4 wins)
  2. Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
  3. Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
  4. Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/1 win)
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
  6. Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/3 wins)
  7. Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
  8. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
  9. Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
  10. Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/2 wins)
  11. Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/3 wins)
  12. Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)

[Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports]