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NASCAR's Chase to the Cup 2011: Can Kevin Harvick Pull It Off?

Callie MannContributor IISeptember 20, 2011

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 18:  (L-R) The 2011 Chase contenders Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Wrigley's Doublemint Toyota, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Ollie's Bargain Outlet Ford, Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg's/Cheez-it Ford, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Kurt Busch, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, Ryan Newman, Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Medicine Chevrolet, Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, pose on stage prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 18, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Throughout all the rain, wind and weather, NASCAR's Race to the Sprint Cup is underway. Having just completed the first of 10 races for the Sprint Cup Championship, it seems as fierce as ever in competition. 

After the weather-stricken Geico 400 finally got underway at Chicagoland Speedway, many of the points leaders were dueling for points and position. As with every race, these drivers are now going elbow-to-elbow for the top spot. 12 drivers will compete in the next nine races for the championship. 

As I predicted back in February, my top five looked like this: Harvick, Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Johnson and Hamlin.  

After a long (to some, not long enough) season of full-throttle action, NASCAR's 2011 season has come down to these top 12 race car drivers. Each driver received points for laps led, positioning and eventually winning the race. Each race gives drivers an opportunity to be awarded 48 points, providing that most laps were led and that the particular driver won the race.

Initially, this wasn't always the case with the points system. However, 2011 has brought forth this style of calculation. Some may argue that the new points system is more about consistency than it is about winning. 

After one (of 10) Sprint Cup Series Championship race, here are the official standings (followed by points behind leader):

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1. Kevin Harvick

2. Tony Stewart (-7)

3. Carl Edwards (-10)

4. Kurt Busch (-11)

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-13)

6. Brad Keselowski (-14)

7. Ryan Newman (-14)

8. Jimmy Johnson (-16)

9. Kyle Busch (-19)

10. Matt Kenseth( -24)

11. Jeff Gordon (-25)

12. Denny Hamlin (-41)

Considering that I predicted five of these drivers and they are all in the top 12, something tells me that I should become a betting woman. Imagine if the field froze now with Harvick and Stewart as my exacta? Cha-ching!

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Ford, makes a pit stop ahead of the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 19, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/G
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

At any rate, I am certain this top 12 list will shift around and change more than what you see on pit road. After all, this is NASCAR and exciting turn of events can always happen—just like it did yesterday when most of the Chase drivers were running out of fuel. And just like that, an unfortunate turn of events happened for Matt Kenseth, who was pushed on the final lap after running out of fuel.

Kenseth was penalized for being pushed by J.J. Yeley. Yeley stated in an interview on NASCAR  Radio that he understood the rule as being able to push on the final lap, but not being able to push the car across the finish line. "I feel horrible for Matt's crew," Yeley said.

For Kenseth, he took the final-lap push in stride. After all, what can you do? Rules are rules, and with so many to follow in every sport, sometimes you do not fully understand the rule unless the situation presents itself, such as what happened on Monday in Chicago. Kenseth was penalized in positions and is currently in 10th in the Chase for the Championship.

Shortly after the race, Kenseth tweeted, "The no pushing on last lap rule has always been in effect, NASCAR is right to penalize us. Just wish I would have thought about rule sooner."

Next Sunday, September 25, NASCAR will be in Loudon, New Hampshire for the second of the final Sprint Cup Series' 10 races.

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