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The 12 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship

By JIM TOMLIN

Times Staff Writer

A look at the 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who qualified for the 10-race Chase for the Championship:

Denny Hamlin

Drives: No. 11 Toyota

2010 wins: Six

New points: 5,060

Cut to the Chase: He has run hot and cold this season, as evidenced by the fact that he leads the series in wins but came into Richmond 10th in points. His victory Saturday at Richmond, which he considers his hometown track (he was born in Brandon but grew up in Virginia), ended a slump which saw him finish outside the top 30 four times in a 10-race stretch including a last-place finish at Atlanta.

Jimmie Johnson

Drives: No. 48 Chevy

2010 wins: Five

New points: 5,050

Cut to the Chase: The four-time defending champion has not quite been his dominant self this season. After consecutive wins in June, Johnson endured a seven-race stretch where he finished out of the top 20 five times. In that time he failed to earn a top-five finish, his longest streak without one since early 2008. Still, he and the No. 48 team are the best in the Chase until someone proves otherwise.

Kevin Harvick

Drives: No. 29 Chevy

2010 wins: Three

New points: 5,030

Cut to the Chase: The most consistent driver in the series this season, Harvick has been in the top five in points all year and has led since the first Richmond race in early May. He has the most finishes in the top five (11) and top 10 (17). In fact the only place where he hasn't been impressive is in qualifying (nine starts outside the top 25), but it hasn't mattered very much.

Kyle Busch

Drives: No. 18 Toyota

2010 wins: Three

New points: 5,030

Cut to the Chase: Love him or hate him (and most seem to choose the latter), fans must admit that the Chase is more interesting with the "Wild Child" in it. He's capable of winning anywhere and can rub foes the wrong way on any lap, or in any interview. He had eight straight top-10 finishes in midseason, five of them at places where the series returns for the Chase. The call here: He's the man to beat.

Kurt Busch

Drives: No. 2 Dodge

2010 wins: Two

New points: 5,020

Cut to the Chase: Kyle's older brother, the 2004 series champion, slipped to 10th in points a couple of weeks ago but finished sixth at Atlanta to clinch a spot in the Chase for the fifth time. The only Dodge driver in the Chase has the same problem he had last year: No teammate with Penske South Racing is running well enough from week to week to offer him much help.

Tony Stewart

Drives: No. 14 Chevy

2010 wins: One

New points: 5,010

Cut to the Chase: The win last week at Atlanta, his first this year, was a huge relief and might be the spark that the veteran needs to make a run at a third title. He has crept up from 18th in points after Darlington in May to fourth before Saturday. And this is a driver who, when he gets hot, tends to be unbeatable. Remember his three Chase wins in 2006, or five in seven races in 2005? That could happen again.

Greg Biffle

Drives: No. 16 Ford

2010 wins: One

New points: 5,010

Cut to the Chase: He has been in the top 11 in points all year and owns the lone victory for Roush Fenway Racing this season, in August at Pocono. That came just days after team owner Jack Roush's plane crash; Roush was still in the hospital recovering when Biffle won. But that has been the lone highlight of the summer for Biffle, who had just four top-10 finishes in his past nine races before Saturday.

Jeff Gordon

Drives: No. 24 Chevy

2010 wins: None

New points: 5,000

Cut to the Chase: He's a four-time series champion and one of the all-time greats, but it has been a long time since he has dominated. Consider that he has one win in the past three seasons, or that his most recent Cup title was in 2001. He was second in points before they were reset and that kind of consistency matters but in the Chase, victories are usually needed for championship contention.

Carl Edwards

Drives: No. 99 Ford

2010 wins: None

New points: 5,000

Cut to the Chase: Edwards is a prime example of how fast fortunes can change in NASCAR. Sure, he's in the Chase for the fourth consecutive year. After his nine-win season of 2008 he seemed certain to win a title very soon, but that seems like a long time ago. His winless streak has hit 62 races and he came into Richmond having led 38 laps all season compare that to 1,282 laps led in 2008.

Jeff Burton

Drives: No. 31 Chevy

2010 wins: None

New points: 5,000

Cut to the Chase: He has been running at the finish in every race this season; only Matt Kenseth and non-Chaser Dale Earnhardt Jr. can also say that. And both of Burton's top-three finishes this season (second at Dover, third at Fontana) came at tracks which the series is revisiting during the Chase. It would be easy to overlook the respected veteran but perhaps unwise.

Matt Kenseth

Drives: No. 17 Ford

2010 wins: None

New points: 5,000

Cut to the Chase: Kenseth tops the series in laps run at 7,669 and had finished every race. That's the good news. The bad? He had led 35 laps all season, lowest among the Chasers and behind drivers such as Sam Hornish and Marcos Ambrose. Kenseth's 2003 title run was the model of consistency (and likely was the impetus for NASCAR introducing the Chase format.) He's at it again.

Clint Bowyer

Drives: No. 33 Chevy

2010 wins: None

New points: 5,000

Cut to the Chase: The last man in is the third of the three-car Richard Childress team to earn a spot. A statistical oddity: He has more appearances in the Chase (three) than career Cup wins (two). His best finish this season is fourth, four times. But the Chase does not revisit any of those tracks. Bottom line, despite a strong run Saturday, he seems unlikely to trouble many of the other contenders.

The 12 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship 09/12/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 12, 2010 1:58am]

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