Last week I said in this column that Jimmie Johnson all but had his third consecutive title locked up; Don’t tell Carl Edwards, who is trying his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Chasing down the points leaders in both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup, Edwards is riding back-to-back victories on the Cup side in an effort that has closed the deficit between he and Johnson to 106 points. Still, it appears Edwards needs Johnson to hiccup in one of the final two races to have a shot at the championship.
With just two races remaining, the 1-2 drivers at the top of the standings are clearly among the hottest drivers in the series. But who else is on a roll? Who needs a good run this weekend at Phoenix? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup, Chase Edition to find out.
Johnson: The No. 48 lost ground to Edwards this week who won his second straight race, but Johnson is still in the driver’s seat for a third consecutive title. Despite a 15th-place finish this weekend – his first non-top 10 of the Chase – a 106-point lead with just two races remaining is a comfortable margin that has not yet been overcome this late in the season in the history of the sport. Oh, and Johnson won the spring race at Phoenix.
Edwards: In both Nationwide and Sprint Cup, Edwards is trying to Chase down the series points leader. But while he’s just 91 points behind Clint Bowyer in the Nationwide Series, his task in Cup may be a little more difficult. The No. 99 team is making a strong run with two wins in a row, but chasing down the most consistent driver in NASCAR is no small task. Despite six top 10s in eight races, Edwards is still 106 points behind the dynasty that is Chad Knaus and Johnson.
Jeff Gordon: That first win of 2008 may still be out there, but Gordon has to be on the verge of breaking into victory lane. One of the series’ most consistent drivers, the No. 24 team rode late-race fuel strategy to its fourth consecutive top-10 finish and sixth in the last seven races. With a second-place finish this weekend, Gordon jumps into the top five in points for the first time this season.
Matt Kenseth: I say it just about every week, but it continues to hold true: when Kenseth finishes, he’s consistently been a top-10 car this Chase. With a ninth-place run this weekend at Texas, the No. 17 team picked up its fifth top 10 this Chase, but three DNFs leave them eighth in points. Kenseth has also run well at the series’ next stop in Phoenix, where he has three top 10s in his last four races, but finished 38th there in the spring, 43 laps down.
Greg Biffle: Like his Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Biffle has been strong as of late. Starting the Chase with back-to-back wins, Biffle established himself early on as a Chase contender before a crash at Talladega put the No. 16 team in a hole. Still, with a fifth-place run this weekend, Biffle has six top 10s in the eight Chase races and sits third in points.
Bowyer: The past month has been hit or miss for Bowyer with finishes of 12th, ninth, 20th and this week fourth. Consistency has been the key for the No. 07 team this Chase. Despite just four top 10s in the final eight races, the team’s worst finish is 20th, leaving them sixth in points.
Kevin Harvick: Like his teammate, Harvick’s worst finish this Chase is a respectable 20th. A seventh place at Texas was the No. 29’s fifth top 10 of the Chase and fourth consecutive top-15 finish. Still, despite a solid top-10 run this weekend, Harvick drops two spots to seventh in points.
Kyle Busch: It may have taken four poor finishes to start the Chase to do it, but Lil’ Busch appears to be back on track. This week’s sixth-place finish was the team’s third top 10 in the last four races and moved the No. 18 back into the top 10 in points. It’s still hard to believe that this was the team to beat two months ago though.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin came into the Chase as one of the hottest drivers in the series with three consecutive third-place finishes leading into the Chase opener at New Hampshire. Unfortunately for the No. 11 team, that momentum never really carried over. Despite a few top 10s, accidents and mediocre finishes have plagued Hamlin who sits last in Chase points with five non-top 10s in his last seven races including a 17th-place run this weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The No. 88 team has to be wondering when they’re going to catch a break. With a good finish just a handful of laps away this weekend at Texas, Junior ran out of gas, had to come down pit road for a splash, and finished 20th. With just two top 10s in the Chase, Earnhardt only sits two points ahead of Hamlin for the basement.
Jeff Burton: Once considered an automatic top-12 finish this season, Burton has struggled to meet that mark as of late. The No. 31 team started the Chase with five consecutive top 10s, but with a respectable 13th-place finish this weekend, Burton has not finished in the top 12 in the last three weeks.
Tony Stewart: This is not the way Stewart wanted to go out at Joe Gibbs Racing. A 16th-place finish this weekend was Smoke’s fourth consecutive non-top 10 and sixth in the last seven races. You can’t blame the impending divorce for the No. 20’s poor runs as of late though. None of the JGR cars have been consistently strong this Chase and Stewart still sits highest in the standings.