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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]
Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident in front of Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, as Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Hormel/Menards Toyota, drives away during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, and Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Hormel/Menards Toyota, race into turn one during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Truex, Jr. is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, qualifies for 2nd position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Newman is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A view of a decal placed on the #14 Code 3 Associates / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart (not pictured), during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano (left), driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Joey Logano (left), driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott (left) congratulates his son Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. This will mark Chase Elliott`s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane with girlfriend Paige White after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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