Plenty of jostling left before Chase

Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013

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.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14