Halfway home is better than halfway home in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series, at least for those in the top 12. Thirteen races into the season and halfway to the cutoff when the contestants for the 10-race Chase for the Championship are set, the majority of the field is already locked. Or, at least that's what the four-year history of the playoff format strongly suggests. Just six drivers within the Chase boundary after the 13th race have fallen out by Richmond, the final regular-season race. Mark Martin did last year but deserves an asterisk. He was racing a partial schedule.
|The field — for now|
|1. Kyle Busch||2,050||He's 142 points ahead in the standings with four wins and an aura of reckless abandon around him. Ah, youth.|
|2. Jeff Burton||1,908||The anti-Busch, patient and consistent, but he has yet to find his stride.|
|3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.||1,779||Mired 14th in the standings after Dover last year, he leads the Hendrick Motorsports contingent. Does the 74-race winless streak end soon?|
|4. Carl Edwards||1,713||Won two of the first three races and now has three victories. If the Chase started now, he'd be second when bonus points are included.|
|5. Greg Biffle||1,658||Is this the year he becomes the first to have won titles in each of NASCAR's top three series?|
|6. Jeff Gordon||1,646||Do three straight top fives foreshadow a summer push?|
|7. Jimmie Johnson||1,644||The two-time defending series champion has Hendrick's only win of the season.|
|8. Clint Bowyer||1,633||Mr. Consistent has seven top 10s.|
|9. Denny Hamlin||1,630||Ramming into the Tony Stewart-Elliott Sadler wreck at Dover marked just his third unfinished race in 92 Cup starts.|
|10. Kevin Harvick||1,566||Twice has been in the Chase field after Dover only to miss the playoffs.|
|11. Tony Stewart||1,551||Joe Gibbs Racing has five wins (Busch plus Hamlin), and the two-time champion is keeping up his end of the deal.|
|12. Kasey Kahne||1,524||The only hope of a so-far anemic Dodge effort.|
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Story lines to watch
• Is Hendrick sandbagging? Perhaps this is giving the team too much credit, but it did win half of the races last season. One win among Johnson and Gordon? Sure, the rest of the series has caught up to some degree, but it's almost as if Hendrick is using the first part of the season as a test session.
• Can Kyle Busch keep this up? He has 10 victories in NASCAR's top three series. Impressive, but the question remains whether his extensive moonlighting efforts will take a mental or physical toll.