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Who's set to take up the Chase in 2011?

With only two races to go before the cut-off for the Chase that determines the 12 drivers left to fight for the 2011 championship, who has made the grade - and who is right on the edge?
Only two races remain - Atlanta and Richmond - before NASCAR Sprint Cup arrives at the crucial Chase cut-off, which sees 12 drivers separated out for the final battle of the 2011 Cup championship title. For the top drivers in the series, this is the first big moment they've been waiting for: making the cut is a huge affirmation of their performance to date.

Missing out, on the other hand, can be a huge blow - the kind of disappointment that causes people in teams to be ousted from their jobs. Even drivers.

Making the Chase involves finishing the 'regular season' of the first 26 races of the year in the top ten on points. Added to that are two wildcard entries for the top two drivers in positions 11 through 20 based on the number of wins so far in 2011, a new innovation introduced only this year which has certainly enlivened the Race for the Chase.

Kyle Busch was the first to be confirmed through to the Chase, being a lock after his win at Michigan last week. This week's 14th place at Bristol - a disappointment for Kyle on his favourite track - was enough to confirm that his Chase place would be based on points and not have to rely on a wins wildcard (his four wins the best tally of any driver so far this year.) He's currently tied for the lead in the Cup points with Jimmie Johnson and looking like one of the strongest contenders for the championship - although he's been in that position before, in 2008, only to then collapse in the Chase itself and never feature in the title battle.

Joining Busch in clinching a Chase place after Bristol are Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who now cannot be knocked out of the top ten points positions before the cut-off. Kevin Harvick is also through to the Chase, one way or the other, and Jeff Gordon was also belatedly confirmed as a lock after NASCAR confirmed there was no way he could miss out on either points or wins wildcard.

Jimmie Johnson's inclusion won't surprise anyone: the five-times Cup champion has made the Chase every year since the post-result season format was introduced. He's got it down to a fine art, as well: never particularly dazzling through the main part of the season, he nonetheless is a model of consistency which is exactly what works best in the Chase's ten-race shootout. Still, onlookers have noticed that Johnson seems more rattled by the closer competition this year than in the past - his recent post-race blow-up with Kurt Busch being one example - and doesn't seem to have things to his liking this year as he has in the past.

Matt Kenseth locks into the Chase after a strong showing at Bristol. He's another driver who rarely seems to attract much attention during the regular season, but he's won two races (Texas and Dover in the first half of the year) and seems to be growing in confidence and consistency as the Chase approaches. In other words, as far as Chase preparations go, Kenseth is playing it pretty much perfectly.

Carl Edwards is also through, but his season is going in the wrong direction compared with the likes of Busch and Kenseth. He led the Cup points for a long time going into the summer, but his form has trailed off somewhat as the year has gone on. Some put that down to the distraction of uncertainty around his re-signing with Roush Fenway Racing, but now the deal is done it doesn't seem to have rebooted his fortunes and the team as a whole seem to have gone off the boil. Like Johnson, Edwards has only one win this season.

At least Edwards and Roush Fenway are having a better time of it than Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing, which seems a bit of an unhappy camp at the moment. Last week the team fired their popular pit crew coach Matt Clark after problems in pit lane, while last month the well-respected crew chief of Jeff Burton's #31 car, Todd Berrier, was also shown the door.




Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson with his latest of five Sprint Cup championship trophies. [Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Brian Scott, driver of the #2 Shore Lodge Chevrolet, leads Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, during the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, drive driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinios.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, wins the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Cars race after a restart lead by Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet (L), Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet (R) during the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Crew chief Chad Knaus inspects the car of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, after a crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, crashes in the early part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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