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A look at the 12 Sprint Cup contenders in the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Championship

Kyle Busch

Drives: No. 18 Toyota

2011 wins: Four

New points: 2,012

Cut to the Chase: Busch has hit a few milestones this season: He led the regular season in wins, hit 100 wins in NASCAR's top three series and earned his first victory at Michigan (plus the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky). Now he seeks one more, the biggest one: a first Cup title. But he has only won one race during the 10-race Chase for the Championship and that was as a rookie in 2005, when he wasn't in the Chase.

Kevin Harvick

Drives: No. 29 Chevrolet

2011 wins: Four

New points: 2,012

Cut to the Chase: There might not be a better charger than Harvick, who has 13 top-10 finishes this season despite being 25th in the series in average start position (19.9) with a best start of seventh in the Daytona 500. He has been pretty consistent and tied Kyle Busch for the series lead in victories (four) with his win Saturday night at Richmond. Harvick is the bright spot in a down season for Richard Childress Racing.

Jeff Gordon

Drives: No. 24 Chevrolet

2011 wins: Three

New points: 2,009

Cut to the Chase: His gutsy drive to career victory No. 85 last week at Atlanta gave the four-time series champion a boost and further cemented thoughts that Gordon might be ready to climb to the top of the sport again at age 40. (Wow, can the former "Boy Wonder" really be that old?) This is his best season since 2007, when he won six times and was second in points behind teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Matt Kenseth

Drives: No. 17 Ford

2011 wins: Two

New points: 2,006

Cut to the Chase: Wins this season at Texas and Dover bode well for the 2003 series champion as both are Chase tracks. But he has no top-five finishes this season at the other six tracks where the series returns during the Chase. Kenseth went into Richmond as the only multi-time winner this season among the Roush Fenway Racing stable. He only owns one win during the Chase (in 2007 at Homestead).

Jimmie Johnson

Drives: No. 48 Chevrolet

2011 wins: One

New points: 2,003

Cut to the Chase: What to make of the five-time defending Cup champion? He has not been his dominant self this season, then again, nobody has really dominated. He only has one win, at Talladega, but went into Richmond leading the series in average finish (9.8) and top-10 finishes (17). The bottom line is he's the champ and the best Chase driver alive until somebody takes it away from him.

Carl Edwards

Drives: No. 99 Ford

2011 wins: One

New points: 2,003

Cut to the Chase: The man chosen by many in the preseason as the one to dethrone Johnson looked the part for much of the season as Edwards led the points for most of April and all of May, and was in the top two into mid August. He hit a bad patch in the summer but heading into Richmond he seemed to be coming around. He had back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time since June.

Kurt Busch

Drives: No. 22 Dodge

2011 wins: One

New points: 2,003

Cut to the Chase: Penske Racing had a midseason shakeup after Busch complained loudly about the state of things on the team. Since then Busch has run solidly (a bumpy stretch in August aside) and teammate Brad Keselowski has been the sport's hottest driver. Since winning the Cup title in 2004, Busch has only won one Chase race (2009 in Atlanta), but he also owns at least one victory in each of the past 10 seasons.

Ryan Newman

Drives: No. 39 Chevrolet

2011 wins: One

New points: 2,003

Cut to the Chase: Newman has put together a consistent run to the Chase; he has been in the top 10 in points after every race but the opening Daytona 500. He's due for a good finish at a restrictor-plate track after how well he has run on them this year; perhaps next month, Talladega will be kind to Stewart-Haas Racing for once. And Newman's win this year came at Loudon, site of the second Chase race.

Brad Keselowski

Drives: No. 2 Dodge

2011 wins: Three

New points: 2,000

Cut to the Chase: As a wild card, he doesn't receive the three points per win like the drivers who finished the regular season in the top 10 in points. But after his breakthrough season — three victories, including two on a broken ankle — the 27-year-old has stamped himself as a contender at several types of tracks. One win came on a 1.5-mile track, one on the oddball Pocono layout and one at the Bristol bullring.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Drives: No. 88 Chevrolet

2011 wins: None

New points: 2,000

Cut to the Chase: Coming into Richmond, no Chase contender was in worse form than Junior. Forget breaking the 118-race losing streak, how about a top-10 finish? Earnhardt had just one top 10 in 11 races entering Saturday and that was a ninth place at Pocono. And he had led 50 laps all season, by far the fewest of anyone in the Chase. He still has Hendrick Motorsports power behind him though.

Tony Stewart

Drives: No. 14 Chevrolet

2011 wins: None

New points: 2,000

Cut to the Chase: By a lot of measures this is the worst season of Stewart's career, yet history suggests that counting him out is a bad idea. This is only the second time that he has gone this deep into a season without a win (in 2008 he was winless until race No. 30, at Talladega). But Stewart's a great finisher. Of his 39 Sprint Cup victories, 12 have come in races 27-36 of a season, including Fontana last year.

Denny Hamlin

Drives: No. 11 Ford

2011 wins: One

New points: 2,000

Cut to the Chase: He also doesn't get victory bonus points because he's a wild card. Hamlin, who came so close to the Cup title last season before finishing second, has been second-best on his team this year as Kyle Busch has been the top dog at Joe Gibbs Racing. And after compiling at least 18 top-10 finishes in each of his first five full seasons, he had nine entering Saturday. He has four career Chase wins.

A look at the 12 Sprint Cup contenders in the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Championship 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 11:31pm]
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