NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Why 2011's Chase Will Be One of the Best Yet

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Why 2011's Chase Will Be One of the Best Yet
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Through the wreck-fest it was, Richmond showed us the good, the bad and the ugly. Between driver emotions and crushed metal, fans saw just a glimpse of what this year's Chase may expose. 

Coming out of Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the Chase field was set and the series will begin its 10-week playoffs next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Just taking a look at this year's Chase lineup, the first thing that stands out is the great variety of popular drivers. With only the exception of a few big names, the field possesses a huge amount of stardom—only one more reason for ticket sales and angst to grow in the coming weeks. 

Battling his way into the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fought just as hard as anyone, if not harder, on the track Saturday night to ensure that he would have a spot in the 2011 Chase. Starting 27th, most of the odds were against Earnhardt to secure a place.

After an early race run-in, he fought a torn-up car and multiple other fender-benders on the track before finishing 16th and grabbing his position in the Chase. 

"We just kept working it and trying to fix the car," said Earnhardt after climbing out of his beaten car. 

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
"But we worked on it and worked on it...I'm proud to be in the Chase. I feel like I'm a good enough driver to be in the Chase—my team is good enough to be there." 

Slipping into ninth, Tony Stewart gained a position in the points following Earnhardt's mishaps. After starting 22nd, he managed to finish seventh and secured his place in the Chase. 

Also, due to the outcome of tonight's race, even after multiple hardships throughout the running, Denny Hamlin secures a wild card position in the Chase, making him the final driver in the 12-driver lineup. 

"It was amazing how we were able to battle back," Hamlin said. "This car is absolutely destroyed."

When you examine the names in previous Chase years, there seems to always be one or two hugely popular figures in the lineup. This year contains them all, from the last-minute position grabs of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, to the resurgence of Jeff Gordon and the always contending Jimmie Johnson.

Also included are big names such as Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. But, of course, this year's Chase wouldn't be complete without the ever-controversial Kyle Busch leading the standings into the first race of the 10-race playoff of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. 

We've seen this format since 2004. Could this year top the charts? It's got it all, and it alone may be the one to beat.

Buckle your seatbelts fans, the next 10 weeks could go many ways and with all of the names people want to see in there, it'll be one to remember. 

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