NASCAR Sprint Cup: Evaluating The Chasers After Fontana

Ryan Papaserge@@RyanPapasergeCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2010

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Evaluating The Chasers After Fontana

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Tony Stewart (R), driver of the #14 Office Depot Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images f
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    In Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway, many of the Chasers provided a maximum effort in their efforts to stay alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    By lap 200, Tony Stewart was in position to take his second victory of the season while Jimmie Johnson made his road to a fifth consecutive Chase title a bit easier.

    However, a select few found themselves on the outside looking in despite solid finishes.

    Here is a look at where the Chasers stand after Sunday's race in Fontana, Calif.

12. Clint Bowyer (-247 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 The Hartford Chevrolet, leads Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Clint Bowyer finished second at Auto Club Speedway, but he could have had it so much better.

    The Emporia, Kan., native led four times for 40 laps, in front as late as lap 184. However, a debris caution on the following lap, while Bowyer was out front, cost him a chance at victory.

    It has been argued that the caution may have been NASCAR's way of continuing its punishment of the No. 33 Chevy team after the New Hampshire fiasco, as the yellow flag did prevent a late series of green-flag pit stops.

    Regardless, it appears as if Bowyer's chances at winning a title are over. A 250-point deficit to make up in six races seems highly unlikely.

11. Matt Kenseth (-241 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Ford, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Another driver who fell out of contention for the Sprint Cup title was Matt Kenseth; despite leading 29 laps, the Wisconsin native suffered engine trouble en route to a 30th-place finish.

    Instead of returning to the thick of the Chase hunt, it appears as if the No. 17 team's chances at winning a second title are now non-existent.

10. Greg Biffle (-215 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford, drives on the track after blowing his motor during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The adjacent picture represents Greg Biffle's hopes at both winning Sunday's race and winning the Sprint Cup championship.

    His Roush-Yates engine blew up just 40 laps into the 200-lap race, relegating him to a 41st-place finish.

    Much like his fellow Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth, Biffle's chances for a title have gone up in smoke.

9. Kyle Busch (-187 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Crew members for Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M'sToyota, work on the car after blowing a motor during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Image
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Another Chaser with mechanical issues on Sunday was Kyle Busch, who ended up with a 35th-place finish after blowing an engine on lap 155.

    Despite leading four laps, the Las Vegas native is now a full race behind the Chase leader, with a great finish required in Charlotte on Saturday night to stay in contention.

    Working in Busch's favor is a string of six consecutive top-ten finishes at the Concord, N.C.-based track.

8. Jeff Burton (-177 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Caterpilliar Chevrolet, leads Reed Sorenson, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/G
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    While Jeff Burton didn't necessarily have an overbearing engine issue, he did struggle to a 23rd-place finish on Sunday.

    Transmission problems caused the South Boston, Va.-issue native to struggle on restarts for the entire race, ending his chances at victory from the drop of the green flag.

    He may need to record a fourth career victory at the "Beast of the Southeast" to even stay in contention for the Chase.

7. Carl Edwards (-162 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, leaves the pits after making a stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards joined his teammates Biffle and Kenseth among those having mechanical trouble at Auto Club Speedway.

    After his ignition box failed during a restart, a trip to the garage revealed a broken distributor. Following a 13-lap stay in the garage, Edwards limped home to a 34th-place finish.

    Edwards also needs a great finish on Saturday night to stay in the hunt for a championship. While the Missouri native has five top-fives at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he has never won at the track.

6. Kurt Busch (-140 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, crash in to each other during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Harry Ho
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Add yet another driver to the list of struggling Chasers. Kurt Busch tangled with David Ragan with seven laps to go at the Pepsi Max 400, relegating him to a 21st-place finish.

    Luckily for the Las Vegas native, the No. 2 Dodge saw victory lane at both the Sprint Cup All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte last May.

5. Tony Stewart (-107 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot Chevrolet, is handed the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NA
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Stewart's win on Sunday vaulted him back into the thick of Chase contention, just outside 100 points behind the leader.

    Leading 27 laps in the event, Stewart seems to be on the cusp of yet another late-season bloom.

    A second career victory at Charlotte would only further his chances at winning a third Sprint Cup title.

4. Jeff Gordon (-85 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, leads Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 The Hartford Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/G
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon is continuing to maintain the possibility of having a winless Sprint Cup champion, after quietly finishing with a ninth-place finish in the Pepsi Max 400 Sunday.

    Gordon would need help in the form of issues with the three drivers ahead of him in points, but the four-time champion has been the most consistent driver of the 12 in the Chase, despite a pit road speeding penalty at Auto Club Speedway..

    The former "Rainbow Warrior" has five wins at Charlotte, the most recent in 2007.

3. Kevin Harvick (-54 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, leads Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/G
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kevin Harvick has also been a model of consistency in this season's Chase, reinforcing that claim with a seventh-place finish at Auto Club.

    The Bakersfield, Calif.-native has one top-five finish in 19 races at Charlotte, a statistic he hopes to improve on Saturday night.

2. Denny Hamlin (-36 Points Behind Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, leads Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Gett
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    While Hamlin finished eighth at the Pepsi Max 400, he still lost 28 points to the leader in the process.

    Not working in his favor next week is the fact that he has just three top-ten finishes in 10 races at Charlotte, the most recent coming three years ago.

1. Jimmie Johnson (Leader)

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    FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Teammates Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 on October 10, 2010 in Fontana,
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about the four-time defending champion.

    After leading 22 laps and finishing third at Auto Club Speedway, Johnson appears to be heading straight toward a fifth Sprint Cup title.

    Saturday, Johnson will compete at a track where he has six wins in 18 races. It looks as if his points lead may only increase next weekend.

    Thoughts? Leave them in the comments section below.

    Ryan Papaserge is a junior Journalism/Mass Communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a writing intern at Bleacher Report.

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