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Sprint Cup

Chase for the Championship: a midseason look

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.
Predicted Chase field

Greg Biffle

Clint Bowyer

Jeff Burton

Kyle Busch

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Carl Edwards

Jeff Gordon

Denny Hamlin

Jimmie Johnson

Kasey Kahne

Matt Kenseth

David Ragan

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.

Chase for the Championship: a midseason look 06/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 6:02pm]
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