The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup field is finally set. The final wild-card spot came down to the wire at Richmond International Raceway, but the 12 drivers who will vie for the 2012 title are now in place. So who has a shot?
It took a gutsy run to second in the final race prior to the Chase for Gordon to snare the final wild-card spot. In the end, he showed the fortitude of a four-time champ as he and crew chief Alan Gustafson worked diligently on their car through that final race to put themselves into the field. Now can Gordon, a winner of one race this season, take advantage of his shot?
Kahne entered the race at Richmond in charge of the wild-card race, and challenging for a spot in the top 10. With two wins, he was the only driver outside the Chase with multiple victories heading into Richmond — and was ahead of all the others in the points standings. So he was virtually a lock going into the race. However, by taking a wild-card berth he failed to get access to the bonus points those wins could have offered.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex joins Clint Bowyer as the first drivers to earn Chase spots for Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex, though, has been in the Chase before when he was driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Truex has yet to earn a win this season, but still locked up a Chase spot with a race to spare.
Harvick has yet to win a race this season, but he's once more in position to contend for the title. Harvick has finished third in the standings the past two seasons, and enters this Chase reunited with Gil Martin, the crew chief he worked with during those runs. Harvick is the lone Richard Childress Racing driver in the Chase.
Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500 and has been in and out of the standings lead throughout the year. Kenseth has always been in contention for a Chase spot and locked up his position with a race to spare. He has one win, which drops him in the standings and puts him nine points behind the leader before the Chase even begins.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. has been among the top contenders all season. He opened the season with an amazingly consistent stretch, earned a win at Michigan International Speedway and locked into the Chase early. Now he'll try to better his career-best finish of third in the standings, which came in 2003.
Bowyer and teammate Martin Truex Jr. are the first drivers to put Michael Waltrip Racing into the Chase — and both made the field this season. Bowyer has two wins and enters the Chase on a high note as the series' most recent winner. He made the field with a race to spare and now has a chance to battle for the title. Bowyer has enjoyed success when making the Chase, finishing third, fifth and 10th in his previous three appearances.
Biffle is one of a pair of two-race winners that get the bonus points for victories, unlike those who make the field via the wild card. Biffle has led the points off and on all season, but forfeited that spot once the Chase field was reset based on wins. He's one of two Roush Fenway Racing drivers in the field.
Keselowski earned a trio of wins this season to put him in solid position entering the Chase. He's the lone member of Penske Racing, and the lone Dodge, in the field. Keselowski will be looking to better his fifth position that he earned in the 2011 standings.
Stewart hasn't enjoyed consistency in recent races and headed to Richmond uncertain as to whether he would make the field as a wild card or by locking into the top 10. The difference? Earning the bonus points for his three victories this season. Still, the defending series champion is back in contention for the title.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson (holding his daughter Genevieve) is once more in stellar position entering the Chase. Johnson has a trio of wins this season to put him mathematically just three points out of the lead. For a driver who generally steps up during this segment of the season, that's certainly not much to overcome.
Hamlin went from a driver struggling to lock into the top 10 to taking the top spot in the field when he earned back-to-back wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway heading in the final segment of the season prior to the Chase. The series runner-up in 2010, he now has the edge as the Chase begins.