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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]
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, races Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, May 3, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. With him are Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS who finished second, and Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet SS who finished in third place. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, waves to fans after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, picks up the victory flag Sunday, May 3, 2015 after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. This was Earnhardt, Jr.`s sixth victory at Talladega. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and his crew chief, Greg Ives, celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS Sunday, May 3, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. This was Earnhardt, Jr.`s sixth victory at Talladega. Johnson finished second behind Earnhardt, Jr. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory Sunday, May 3, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. This was Earnhardt, Jr.`s sixth victory at Talladega. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ty Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, and Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Sponge Bob Square Pants Ford, wreck during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Ryan Reed, driver of the #16 Lilly/American Diabetes Association Ford, Kenny Wallace, driver of the #26 JGL Racing Toyota, Ryan Sieg, driver of the #39 Uncle Bob`s Self Storage Chevrolet, and John Wes Townley, driver of the #25 Zaxby`s Chevrolet, are involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, watches crew members work on his car after an incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Saturday, May 2, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. Earnhardt, Jr. is eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS, qualifies for second position Saturday, May 2, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. Kahne is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Hendrick Motorsports teammate and Pole winner Jeff Gordon, driver of the #5 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS will join him on the front row Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, wins the Pole position Saturday, May 2, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. Gordon is tenth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS will join him on the front row Sunday. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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