NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at the AdvoCare 500

Michael GuadalupeFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at the AdvoCare 500

0 of 10

    Two races left to go in The Chase, and it's come down to just two drivers who still have a chance to win the championship.

    The AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway this Sunday should be a battle for the points lead and the race lead like we saw last week at Texas.

    It's a given that both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski will be in the running at the AdvoCare 500, but there are other drivers who could pull off an upset victory.

    A lot of the drivers still in The Chase have nothing to lose, and it stopped becoming a points race for both Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne last week after Johnson and Keselowski finished first and second.  Now these drivers can take the gamble and not worry about fuel mileage or pit strategies as much.

    Kyle Busch has been running strong, and he will more than likely run strong here at Phoenix as well.

    And what about Denny Hamlin, who won at Phoenix earlier this season?  Will he be in the running, or has his late-season stumble knocked him out of contention?

    Phoenix will be a battle between Johnson and Keselowski, but there will be several other drivers to watch out for as well.

    Here are 10 drivers who will be in the running at the AdvoCare 500 this Sunday.

10. Kasey Kahne

1 of 10

    Kasey Kahne has had some rough finishes at Phoenix, but he's also managed to win a race at this track.

    Kahne had a chance to really push through the standings at Texas, but failed to capitalize and ended up being knocked further back, points-wise.

    He might be too far out to win the championship, but Kahne managed to win this race last year when he was with Red Bull Racing. He was a driver who upset The Chase drivers by winning while not being in The Chase.

    "I never really cared for Phoenix," said Kahne over at tireball.com. "I think the tire combination worked out for me. We were fast there the first race this year."

    Kahne was fast but ended up finishing in 34th.  He was dealing with a lot of bad luck at the beginning of the season, and it showed at the first Phoenix race.

    Kahne has been strong throughout The Chase, and has been one driver who has quietly been in the running almost every week.

    His points standing took a tumble last week, and while he does now sit 58 points behind the leader and teammate, Jimmie Johnson, Kahne has run strong at Phoenix before.  The 5 team has improved majorly since the season began, and Kahne will be in the running this Sunday.

9. Greg Biffle

2 of 10

    Greg Biffle has been hit or miss at Phoenix International Raceway.

    He did manage to finish third here during the earlier race this season, but Biffle has also struggled, finishing in 41st back in 2005.

    He does have somewhat of an advantage though, as Biffle tends to do better on tracks that have been repaved.  His third-place finish earlier this year is a prime example of that.

    Biffle is clearly out of the running to win the championship, so he is one of The Chase drivers who can go all or nothing and try to push forward during the race. He does not have to worry about fuel mileage or saving his car as he tries to go for the win.

    He managed to finish 10th last week at Texas, and should be one of the drivers who will be in the running this Sunday at Phoenix.

    "I remember the race last time and it was a good race,” said Biffle over at Motorsport.com. “I think the groove just needs to widen-out a little more and get a little more racey. The back dogleg is a little odd but it’s a fun track."

    With The Chase coming down to only two drivers, it's hard to say who will be in the running while only two drivers are really racing for the championship.

    Still, Biffle has had a successful year and finished well at Phoenix early this season.  Look for Biffle to be one of the drivers in the running when this race comes to a close.

8. Carl Edwards

3 of 10

    Carl Edwards will be making his 300th Sprint Cup Series start at Phoenix this Sunday.

    Like Kyle Busch, Edwards is a driver who is sitting outside The Chase and looking to upset The Chase drivers by winning a race before the season is over.

    When it comes to Phoenix, Edwards has won at this track before, and also has had several top-10 finishes.

    "My first start on pavement was at Phoenix in 2001, so it’s neat to be starting my 300th Sprint Cup Series start there," said Edwards over at Motorsport.com.

    Carl Edwards has had a rough season to say the least.  After being the runner-up for the championship last season, Carl has been plagued with bad luck and is still seeking his first win of the season.

    Edwards was quoted over at SBNation.com as saying:

    We did a spreadsheet on the way the first 26 races (went), and 54 percent of the races we had some sort of wreck or (engine) failure or some trouble. That's about twice we've ever had every year before that. That's part of it, but we need to run better, too.

    Carl has been in the running for several of the final races in The Chase, and even though he has been suffering from bad luck, his success at Phoenix should be enough to guarantee that he will be in the running this Sunday.

7. Matt Kenseth

4 of 10

    Matt Kenseth has been a surprise so far.

    After starting out the season with poor finishes, Kenseth eventually ended up winning two of The Chase races. 

    After his poor start, Kenseth became more of a factor and has been in the running for several of The Chase races.  His poor start, though, prevented him from actually having a chance to win the championship.

    Last week at Texas was a good example of the 17 team, and Kenseth's determination to race to the front.

    “I didn’t think we would ever be standing here with a top-five the way our day started,” said Kenseth over at Motorsport.com. “We started way off and these guys never gave up. They battled hard all day long and got me a good finish.”

    Phoenix will turn out the same way Texas did for Kenseth.  With a fast pit crew and solid driving, Kenseth was in the running for Texas by the time the race was coming to an end.  His recent solid performances week after week have managed to bring Kenseth up to fifth in the standings. He was, at one point, sitting in 12th place.

    Kenseth, like so many other drivers in The Chase, has nothing to lose and should be expected to go all or nothing for the win.

6. Jeff Gordon

5 of 10

    Jeff Gordon's record at Phoenix has been a bit of a mix.  He's won at Phoenix twice and has several top-five and top-10 finishes.

    He's also finished in 41st.

    Still, Gordon has run solid for some of The Chase races, and Phoenix should be another positive race for the 24 team.  At this point, Gordon can only gain from running up front and has nothing to lose by pushing his car as hard as he can.

    Gordon was quoted over at Motorsport.com as saying:

    While we have had some issues in the first eight races of the Chase, there are still spots to be gained and lost. We'll have to fight hard at Phoenix and Homestead to see if we can continue to make up more spots in the standings.

    You have to keep things in perspective and look at the positives. Even though it's not been the year we had hoped for, we have fought hard the entire season.

    Gordon sits sixth in points, and he didn't lose or gain any ground after last week’s race at Texas.  He is clearly too far behind in points to win the championship, but Gordon is still trying to improve his finish in The Chase with only two races to go.

    Expect Gordon to be in the running on Sunday as he hopes to continue moving up the standings.

5. Tony Stewart

6 of 10

    Tony Stewart has been one driver throughout The Chase who has been in the running for almost every race. 

    Unfortunately for Smoke, he hasn't been able to win any of The Chase races either.

    After a solid fifth-place finish at Texas last week, expect the same results for Stewart this week as well.  Will Smoke get to the front and race for the win?  It might be hard with Johnson and Keselowski running so well now, but Smoke will at least make it to the front of the pack by the time this race is over.

    His history at Phoenix started way back in 1993.  Tony was quoted over at Motorsport.com as saying:

    I started racing there in ’93 when I ran a USAC Silver Crown car. And since then, I’ve run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds, Nationwide Series cars and, of course, Sprint Cup. So, I’ve logged a bunch of laps there. To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full-circle.

    His history at Phoenix has translated well for Smoke.  He won at this track way back in 1999, and has had several top-10 finishes at Phoenix as well.

    Last season, when Smoke needed to catch up to Carl Edwards, he pulled out a seventh-place finish on a newly repaved Phoenix track.

    Expect Tony to be in the running when Phoenix comes to a close on Sunday.

4. Clint Bowyer

7 of 10

    The Chase might be a two-man race as of now, but one slip up from Johnson, Keselowski or both could turn The Chase into a three-man race.

    Clint Bowyer is sitting 36 points outside the lead, but Bowyer needs to maintain running up front if he hopes to take advantage of any slip ups from the 2 or the 48.

    "Certainly the focus is on that championship, and those two guys are neck and neck," Clint Bowyer said over at USAToday.com. "Certainly one little slip up on either one of their parts, then I can be right there for the taking. I don't know if you've noticed, but it really doesn't matter if the focus is on me or not. We have fun and go about our business and enjoy ourselves. It doesn't matter."

    Bowyer and the 15 team have run up front for several races in The Chase after he managed to win at Charlotte.  Of course, it will be hard for them to win the championship, especially when the 48 and the 2 teams are finishing races close together.

    He hasn't exactly run great at Phoenix, but Bowyer has been in the running for a good part of The Chase. 

    And while he may be too far back to catch up to Keselowski and Johnson, one of them could always stumble and open the door for Bowyer to move up the standings.

    Expect Bowyer to be in the running at the AdvoCare 500 and continue his amazing first-year run for Michael Waltrip Racing.

3. Kyle Busch

8 of 10

    Kyle Busch missed The Chase, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the top drivers week after week.

    He finished second to Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville and finished in third this past week at Texas.  If Busch had made The Chase, he might be a title contender going into Phoenix.

    Expect Busch to continue pushing forward, as he and the 18 get set for the AdvoCare 500.  Kyle won at Phoenix back in 2005 but besides for his one win, he has finished in the top 10 and also as far back as 38th.

    Still, Busch has managed to be in the running for most of The Chase races, and Phoenix will be no different.

    Busch was quoted over at Motorsport.com as saying:

    You’ve got to continue to work hard and strive to get better. For missing the Chase by what we did, yeah, we had a lot of technical problems, but I’m sure there were a few races where we could have finished better. So, we’ve got to get better every chance we get. These last 10 weeks have been pretty good. We’ve run well. We’ve been fast. We’ve shown speed.

    Busch and the 18 team will continue to be fast on Sunday as they not only try to upset The Chase drivers by being the first driver this season outside The Chase to win a race, but also prepare for the 2013 season.

2. Brad Keselowski

9 of 10

    Like Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski also needs to be in the running this Sunday.  He sits only seven points behind Johnson. If he hopes to win the championship, Brad needs to beat Johnson at his own game.

    The 48 team runs better than anyone else at Phoenix, and if Keselowski can't keep up, his championship hopes will end.

    Keselowski's best finish at this track came during the earlier race at Phoenix this season.  He finished fifth, one spot behind Johnson.  Outside this top-five finish, Keselowski has done poorly at Phoenix.

    Still, there have been several tracks in The Chase where Brad has finished poorly in previous races, but in The Chase, he has pulled out fantastic finishes.

    Phoenix will be another one of these tracks for the Blue Deuce.

    After his great performance at Texas, expect this Sunday to be another repeat.

    "I felt like if one or two cautions didn't come out at Texas, we win the race,” Keselowski said over at aol.sportingnews.com. “Those little things have fallen against us, and that's frustrating. But we're doing a great job of controlling what we can control, and those little breaks that we're not catching right now, they'll come back full circle.”

    Will Keselowski get his break on Sunday, and pull off the win at Phoenix?

    Regardless, the Blue Deuce will be in the running to win the AdvoCare 500.

1. Jimmie Johnson

10 of 10

    With only two races left and Jimmie Johnson still battling to win the championship, it should be a given that Johnson will be in the running on Sunday.

    Even if he wasn't in the middle of fighting for the championship, Johnson would still be a solid choice to win the race at Phoenix.

    Johnson has won at Phoenix four times, and he has several top-10 and top-five finishes.  His worst finish at this track has been 15th.

    He only has a seven-point lead on Keselowski, and if Johnson plans to increase his points lead and potentially wrap up The Chase, he needs to win on Sunday

    Johnon was quoted over at CBSsports.com as saying:

    It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control. We don't have to catch any or make up any points. 7 points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on. We're still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we're behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.

    Expect Johnson to go into Phoenix and run well there like he has in the past.

    Take his history at Phoenix, mix it with the pressure to deliver on Sunday and you can bet that Johnson will be in the running at the AdvoCare 500.