NASCAR Chase 2012: Denny Hamlin and Drivers in Great Shape After Sylvania 300

Sam R. Quinn@SamQuinn_Senior Analyst IIISeptember 23, 2012

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 23:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, and Bobby Labonte, driver of the #47 Bush's Baked Beans Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SYLVANIA 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 23, 2012 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The 2012 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup is in its early stages, but its easy to tell which drivers have the upper hand over the rest of the field.

NASCAR's top-12 drivers are just two races into the postseason, so there is ample time for unexpected shakeups, wrecks and car issues, something that makes the races that much more intriguing.

However, there are a select few that have separated themselves from the field after 700 laps over the last two Sundays.

Here are three competitors that are in the drivers seat (pun intended) at this point in the Chase.


Denny Hamlin

After a brutal showing in the Geico 400 in Chicago, Denny Hamlin turned things around in a big way on Sunday in New Hampshire.

Hamlin dominated the Sylvania 300 by leading 193 of the 300 laps on the day. He was able to overcome his No. 32 starting position to win his fifth race of the season.

He moved into third place with the win, pulling within seven points of leader Jimmie Johnson and six points back of Brad Keselowski.

The Tampa native looked great all day on Sunday, and made sure that he will be lingering around the top of the pack for the next few races.


Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson is obviously one of the favorites to separate himself from the pack by the time the Chase is through, but he proved on Sunday that he doesn't need to run his best race to finish at the front of the pack.

He started at No. 20, and led for just two laps, but he was able to edge third-place finisher Jeff Gordon in race No. 2.

Johnson may already have an advantage over his competition because of his five championships, but his back-to-back second place finishes give him the start he needs.


Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski decided to take his driving to an elite level since the end of June and has finished in the top-10 in all but one of the last 12 races.

After winning in Chicago, Keselowski finished in sixth place in New Hampshire to keep himself within striking distance.

He seems to have hit his stride at the perfect time, and has to be happy with where he finds himself. Any time you can get within one point of Jimmie Johnson during the Chase, you are in great shape.