Just over a month ago only the top five drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings sat within 400 points of leader Jimmie Johnson. Now, after a rotten string of three consecutive retirements no less than 15 drivers have a realistic shot of making it into the final ten-race 'Chase for the Nextel Cup.'

Johnson's retirement from Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 and resulting 40th place finish gave all drivers between positions 11 and 15 in the standings fresh hope of making it into the final ten race 'Chase' regardless of their position in points after round 26.

In order to qualify for the inaugural Chase, drivers must either be in the top ten in points or within 400 points of the series leader following September's Chevy Rock 'n Roll 400 at the Richmond International Raceway.

With three races remaining before the cut-off, Jeremy Mayfield, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Dale Jarrett, and Jamie McMurray are all within 550 points of new series leader Jeff Gordon and have made major gains in recent weeks.

Mayfield, who finished eleventh on Sunday at the Michigan International Speedway, has notched up six straight top 12 finishes while Martin, Jarrett and McMurray all scored top five finishes on Sunday.

While McMurray, who is currently 15th in points, must make up 142 points on the series leader in order to qualify for 'The Chase' by the 400-point method, he is a mere 70 points behind current tenth placed driver Kasey Kahne while Mayfield, Martin and Newman are all within 50 points.

While Jeff Gordon says that he doesn't care about being in the points lead at the moment under the new points system, there is no denying that it has created much greater tension during the summer months.

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