The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 17, 2006

Top 10 in Chase for the Cup


By Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer



The 10 drivers competing in NASCAR’s Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, in order of points standings:



DRIVER: Matt Kenseth

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,050

TEAM: Roush Racing

HOMETOWN: Cambridge, Wis.

AGE: 34

CAR: No. 17 DeWalt Tools Ford

CREW CHIEF: Robbie Reiser

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 1st (2003)

OUTLOOK: Kenseth, the driver many believe forced the Chase format because of his lackluster 2003 title run, has momentum on his side as he tries to win a championship under the new system. He’s got four wins this season and has turned it up a notch heading into the Chase, which begins this weekend in New Hampshire. Kenseth leads all Chase drivers with an average finish of 10.9 at NHIS.

SPEAKING: “We’ve stayed focused this year on one race at a time, and that’s how it’s going to stay this week and for the nine after that. Everyone seems to be putting a lot of pressure on this weekend, and I don’t necessarily see it. I mean, yes, you want to start the Chase with a good finish, but if you don’t, you still have nine more to make up for it,” Kenseth said.

———

DRIVER: Jimmie Johnson

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,045

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

HOMETOWN: El Cajon, Calif.

AGE: 30

CAR: No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Chad Knaus

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 2nd (2003, 2004)

OUTLOOK: Johnson, who has four wins this season, led the points for most of the year. A perpetual title contender, he’s hoping this is the season he finally finishes the job. He faded late last year and fell to fifth in the finale after two consecutive runner-up finishes.

SPEAKING: “I think I have at least as good or even better chance to win a championship now as I ever have. So does everyone else. It will come down to who can deal with everything and have the best car. If you get off to a slow start in the Chase, if you aren’t a strong team, the pressure of the Chase can knock the wind out of your sails and hurt you,” Johnson said.

———

DRIVER: Kevin Harvick

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,040

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

HOMETOWN: Bakersfield, Calif.

AGE: 30

CAR: No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Todd Berrier

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 5th (2003)

OUTLOOK: Harvick is the dark horse of this championship Chase. He’s running away with the Busch Series title and will get extra track time running both schedules. A championship would be the first for Richard Childress Racing since Dale Earnhardt’s 2001 death.

SPEAKING: “We have a realistic shot of doing what we need to do to run for the Cup championship. But it’s going to come down to, you know, not having a bad break or something going wrong and the guy that wins it is going to have 10 good weeks. If we can keep the momentum up, obviously we have a chance.” Harvick said.

———

DRIVER: Kyle Busch

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,035

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

HOMETOWN: Las Vegas

AGE: 21

CAR: No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Alan Gustafson

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 20th (2005)

OUTLOOK: After a rocky start to the season that had him on almost every driver’s bad side, Busch quietly has stayed out of trouble and made himself a championship contender. Probably too immature to win a title just yet, but talented enough to make a run at it.

SPEAKING: “It’s definitely exciting to be in the Chase. Looking forward to the final 10, seven of the 10, one is a crapshoot and the other two we need to work on,” Busch said.

———

DRIVER: Denny Hamlin

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,030

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

HOMETOWN: Chesterfield, Va.

AGE: 25

CAR: No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Mike Ford

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: --

OUTLOOK: The surprise of the Chase field, the rookie has been impressive and thrust himself into Chase contention by sweeping the Pocono races. He lacks the experience to win the title this year, but could pull off a stunner like he did at the start of the year when he won the Budweiser Shootout.

SPEAKING: “It’s really overwhelming. It’s definitely going to be a task to do it. I mean, I think we’re running well enough. If things go well, if things go the way they have, we’re going to need to step it up a little bit to be championship contenders,” Hamlin said.

———

DRIVER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,025

TEAM: Dale Earnhardt Inc.

HOMETOWN: Kannapolis, N.C.

AGE: 31

CAR: No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Tony Eury Jr.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 3rd (2003)

OUTLOOK: Earnhardt is on a comeback after finishing a career-worst 19th in the standings last year. But he’s been hit or miss this year and had a pair of engine failures at inopportune times. Unless he gets really hot, he’s a longshot to win the title.

SPEAKING: “I want to win a championship bad, and being in the Chase is the first big step in doing that. I’m honored to be in the Chase. I’m happy for my team, because they gave me such great effort all year. They deserve this. My fans deserve it. My sponsors deserve it. Everyone who stuck with us through last year deserves being a part of this Chase for the championship, so I hope they soak it up, because I know I am,” Earnhardt said.

———

DRIVER: Mark Martin

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,020

TEAM: Roush Racing

HOMETOWN: Batesville, Ark.

AGE: 47

CAR: No. 6 AAA Ford

CREW CHIEF: Pat Tryson

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 2nd (1990, ’94, ’98, 2002)

OUTLOOK: Martin has yet to prove this season that his team is strong enough to win a title, and he’s yet to win a race this year. But he’ll go down fighting in what’s likely his final season of full-time Cup racing.

SPEAKING: “The team really stepped up to the plate last weekend at Richmond and I can’t tell you how proud I am of (them). When the pressure was really on, they came through and we were able to go out and do exactly what we had to do. Nobody on this team gives up and I plan to go out and have a lot of fun in these last 10 races, and we are confident that we can surprise some people and put it all together and make a run for this championship,” Martin said.

———

DRIVER: Jeff Burton

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,015

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

HOMETOWN: South Boston, Va.

AGE: 39

CAR: No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Scott Miller

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 3rd (2000)

OUTLOOK: Although he’s winless this season, Burton is having a tremendous year after several miserable seasons. He’s led a ton of laps, but late-race slips have prevented him from making it to Victory Lane. If Burton can put it all together, he’s got a chance.

SPEAKING: “We need to step it up a bit. From the way we have been running I think we need to improve a little bit. We’re close, but we have to find a way to get just a touch better,” Burton said.

———

DRIVER: Jeff Gordon

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,010

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

HOMETOWN: Vallejo, Calif.

AGE: 35

CAR: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet

CREW CHIEF: Steve Letarte

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 1st (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)

OUTLOOK: After missing the Chase last year, Gordon’s team has rebounded in hopes of getting him his fifth title. His season has just been OK by Gordon’s standards, but the driver nicknamed “Money Man” is sure to turn it up a notch over the stretch run.

SPEAKING: “Under the old system, you were battling three or four guys at this point in the season. The key was to be consistent down the stretch. The Chase has changed everything. Now you’re dealing with 10 guys and you have to push every week, every race. I don’t think our four championships under the old system is an advantage. I’m in the same position as the other nine drivers — trying to win my first championship under this format,” Gordon said.

———

DRIVER: Kasey Kahne

ADJUSTED CHASE POINTS: 5,005

TEAM: Evernham Motorsports

HOMETOWN: Enumclaw, Wash.

AGE: 26

CAR: No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge

CREW CHIEF: Kenny Francis

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINISH: 13th (2004)

OUTLOOK: Kahne, who has five wins this season, dominated on 1.5-mile tracks earlier this year. With five of the Chase races on 1.5-milers, another hot streak could make him the runaway Chase winner.

SPEAKING: “It’s exciting to be in the Chase. That was our goal when the season started and I’m really happy that we made it. We have the most wins, and I think we have a good start to the final 10. We ran first and third the final two weeks, and we’re going to take this momentum to New Hampshire and focus on the championship now,” Kahne said.