There is some good news for Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as they prepare for this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 in Phoenix.

With one exception, the first five years of the Chase for the Sprint Cup format have seen the top seven drivers after seven races maintain a position in the top twelve after the 26th race of the season, the Chase cut-off. Although only ten drivers qualified for the Chase in the first three years of its existence, the field will be shooting for the top dozen spots again this year, not that that should matter for the leading septet if history is to be believed.

The one exception to the rule is Sterling Marlin, who was sixth after seven races in 2005, but skipped the 22nd event of the season - the road course race at Watkins Glen - to be with his father, Coo Coo, who died on the day of the race. By then, however, Marlin already had fallen out of the top 20 in the standings.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service