Sylvania 300 2012: Drivers to Watch in Critical Chase for Cup Race

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2012

Sep 16, 2012; Joliet, IL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart during the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

With the Chase for the Sprint Cup heating up, the best drivers in NASCAR will descend upon Loudon, New Hampshire for Sunday's Sylvania 300.

Brad Keselowski took home the checkered flag and the points lead last week at Chicago, and he will look stretch his lead with a strong performance on Sunday.

Nevertheless, with every one of the top eight drivers in the standings within 20 points of each other, the championship is still very much up for grabs.

There are eight races remaining in the Chase after this week, so what these drivers do this week could be a precursor for the rest of the season. 

For that reason, here is a look at a few guys to keep an eye on in Sunday's race.


Tony Stewart

The 2011 winner at Loudon comes into Sunday's race seemingly getting warmed up at the perfect time.

After struggling in four consecutive races from Watkins Glen to Atlanta, Stewart earned a clutch sixth-place finish two weeks ago at Richmond and battled all race to come out fourth last week at Chicago.

Those critical finishes vaulted Stewart up the point standings, and he now sits third, just eight points behind Keselowski. If the 41-year-old Indiana native is able to recapture his New Hampshire glory, it could put Stewart in a position to repeat as Sprint Cup champion.

Starting third, he looks to have the car in place and the experience on the track to make it happen.


Clint Bowyer

If a storied history at Loudon is what you're looking for, Bowyer has to be among the drivers to watch on Sunday.

The 33-year-old has two victories at the track in the past five years and comes into the Sylvania 300 having won two weeks ago, and he came in 10th last week at Chicagoland Speedway.

Nonetheless, this is his first opportunity to make an impact at the track with Michael Waltrip Racing. After years of strong finishes in the Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer will have to prove that his Toyota ride is up to the task.

Starting 12th, he is in neither an especially great nor an especially poor position. If Bowyer can make it three wins in six years, he would put a huge dent into his deficit in the Sprint Cup standings. 


Brad Keselowski

What separates the good drivers from the great is being able to handle the heat from the pole position.

After taking home the checkered flag at the Geico 400 last week, Keselowski put himself in the most important pole position of all—points leader.

With just three points separating the breakout 28-year-old stud from five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, the heat will be on Keselowski early and often to prove his worth.

Last season saw the young driver give Stewart a run for his money at Loudon before finishing in second place. It's not necessary that he wins on Sunday (or even places second), but anything outside of a top-10 finish may cause some speculation about his ability to handle the big moment.