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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]
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, lead a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, climbs from his car after being involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS, qualified fifth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Johnson is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, applies the Winner`s Decal after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, lead the field on a late restart during the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, left, talks with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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