NASCAR Sprint Cup: After Charlotte, Championship Now a 4-Man Race

Luke KrmpotichContributor IIOctober 20, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Cup: After Charlotte, Championship Now a 4-Man Race

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    Jimmie haters, rejoice: The No. 48 will not be winning a sixth consecutive championship.

    After wrecking at Charlotte Motor Speedway with 17 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson fell to eighth in the standings and 35 points behind leader Carl Edwards. With just five races to go, it may be too much even for "Superman" to overcome after dominating the Chase since 2006.

    Matt Kenseth, on the other hand, moved squarely into the title fight with an impressive win on Saturday night. Mr. Consistency is just seven points behind his standings in the title race.

    Who else is still in the championship hunt at the Chase's halfway point?

    With just four drivers within 20 points of the lead and five races to go, this Chase has become a four-man battle.

4. Kyle Busch

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    After dominating the latter half of the Charlotte race, Kyle Busch was unable to hold off Matt Kenseth at the end. Kenseth beat Busch—one of the best restarters on the Sprint Cup circuit—on two late restarts to snatch the victory from the driver of the No. 18 M&M's machine.

    However, he was able to fend off Carl Edwards and hold on to second place in the closing laps. Still, despite his runner-up finish Busch gained just two points on the championship leader.

    Busch was frustrated both by his inability to seal the win and by the gap that remains between him and the lead. The younger Busch brother is in fourth place in the standings, 18 points behind Edwards.

    Chicagoland: 22nd, seven laps led

    Loudon: 11th

    Dover: Sixth, one lap led

    Kansas: 11th, eight laps led

    Charlotte: Second, 111 laps led

3. Matt Kenseth

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    After working for much of the race to recover lost track position, Kenseth powered past Kyle Busch on two late restarts at Charlotte to earn his third victory of 2011. This is Kenseth's best year since 2006, when the Wisconsin native scored four race wins and finished second to Jimmie Johnson for the championship.

    Were it not for running out of gas at Chicagoland in the opening race of the Chase, Mr. Consistency could easily be leading the standings right now. Instead, the 2003 Cup champion is seven points behind his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing but very much in the running for a second career title.

    Chicagoland: 25th, 46 laps led

    Loudon: Sixth

    Dover: Fifth, three laps led

    Kansas: Fourth, 26 laps led

    Charlotte: Winner, 46 laps led

2. Kevin Harvick

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    Two weeks ago, Harvick was tied for the points lead. Despite two strong runs since, no longer is that the case.

    You know it's stiff competition when you can finish sixth two weeks in a row and still lose five points to the leader.

    Still, Harvick has been doing what it takes to stay in the hunt. He hasn't been leading a lot of laps, just 11 during the Chase since leading 202 of 400 to win the regular season finale at Richmond.

    But rival drivers know Harvick could strike with a victory at any point, and he's likely going to be right there as a contender come Homestead.

    Chicagoland: Second

    Loudon: 12th, one lap led

    Dover: 10th, 10 laps led

    Kansas: Sixth

    Charlotte: Sixth

1. Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards is the only Chaser to have a top 10 in each of the first five Chase races. In four of those he's scored a top 5.

    Despite an average finish of 4.6 during the Chase, Mr. Nice Guy isn't exactly running away with the title. Edwards narrowly extended the points lead for the second week in a row, but there are still two other drivers within seven points of his position.

    To drive away with the trophy, Edwards will need to either win a couple of races or hope for serious misfortune for his closest competitors.

    Chicagoland: Fourth, 39 laps led

    Loudon: Eighth

    Dover: Third, 116 laps led

    Kansas: Fifth

    Charlotte: Third, one lap led

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