The NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season passed the midway point at Pocono last week. With 12 races remaining until the Chase for the Cup begins Sept. 15th at Chicago, here’s a look at how the contenders for this year’s championship are looking, in order of potential:
At the front
Jimmie Johnson (1st, 3 wins): After he blew the field away at Pocono, there’s little doubt the points leader will stay near or at the top until the postseason begins, then make a strong charge for his sixth Cup championship.
Matt Kenseth (6th, 3): Perhaps the hottest driver of the first half has cooled lately with a 15th at Charlotte, a 40th at Dover and a 25th at Pocono. But he loves where he is with his new team at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kenseth will certainly be heard from again.
Carl Edwards (2nd, 1): Yes, he’s second in points, but Edwards recently agreed he’s had a “quiet” season. His victory at Phoenix seems like a long time ago and he admits that if the Chase started today, he wouldn’t like his chances.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (4th, 0): Finished third at Pocono and the last place he won was Michigan, where this week’s race will take place. He’s in a solid spot for another Chase run. Championship contender? Let’s see how these next 12 pan out.
Middle of the pack
Clint Bowyer (3rd, 0): He hasn’t won this season, but he’s been consistent with four top-five finishes. He seldom has the fastest car, leading only 114 laps this season. All but one of them was at Richmond.
Kyle Busch (7th, 2): One of four drivers with multiple victories, but he has yet to prove he can contend once the Chase begins.
Kevin Harvick (5th, 2): Victories at Richmond and Charlotte show how strong Harvick’s No. 29 Chevy team can be. However, he’s only led 34 laps this season, so he’s not spending a lot of time at the front.
Brad Keselowski (9th, 0): Last season’s champion had 31 points deducted so far this year, and would be in the sixth spot without those penalties. He still hasn’t won a race.
Kasey Kahne (eighth, 1): He slipped at Dover (23rd) and Pocono (36th) after finishing second at Charlotte.
On the bubble
Tony Stewart (13th, 1): A forgettable season got a boost with a victory at Dover and a fourth-place finish at Pocono. Those gave him a solid edge for the wildcard spot.
Kurt Busch (15th, 0): Busch probably has a win in him this season – he’s shown sufficient speed several times. Whether his one-car Furniture Row Racing team has enough resources to keep him in contention is another matter.
Greg Biffle (10th, 0): Moved into the top 10 with his runner-up performance at Pocono, but remains in the danger zone until he can win.
Jeff Gordon (11th, 0): Would barely make the Chase as a wildcard if it ended today.
Paul Menard (12th, 0): Was in the top 10 as recently as last week, but dropped three spots after finishing 30th at Pocono.
David Ragan (29th, 1): Can the Talladega winner edge his way into the top 20 and become eligible for the wild card? He and Stewart are the only drivers outside the top 10 with a victory.
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