NASCAR Sprint Cup: Ranking the Top 12 Coming out of Charlotte

Ken ArmerSenior Writer IOctober 18, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Ranking the Top 12 Coming out of Charlotte

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    With Taladega on the horizon, the points race for the Chase means more now than ever before. Johnson crashed, Busch pouted, Hamlin actually placed decently and Kenseth kicked butt.

    The lights at Charlotte showed didn't just light the track, they illuminated the Chase.

    Where did your favorite driver move to on the standings?

#12 Denny Hamlin

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    Hamlin had a decent finish at Charlotte, wrapping up the race in ninth position. Sorry Denny, it's likely too little too late to matter.

    Eighty-six points out of first may not seem like a lot, but with the way Hamlin has run for the bulk of the season, I'm sure his fate is sealed for the year.

No. 11 Ryan Newman

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    Newman is basically in the same boat as Denny Hamlin—too little too late. Newman finished 10th at Charlotte.

    Sixty-one points back might be too far to reach for Newman, but if he can get on a hot streak, a decent finish to the Chase could be on the horizon for him.

No. 10 Jeff Gordon

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    Races just haven't gone Gordon's way of late. While he is virtually out of the race for the Chase, if anyone can rebound from a couple of bad races, it's the veteran Jeff Gordon.

    A solid finish at Talladega, a track he generally does quite well at, could quickly turn the tides of his Chase hopes.

No. 9 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    After starting 15th, Dale Jr. finished 19th, Not an overall bad night for the veteran.

    Jr's hopes for a Cup are slim after a mediocre year, but if he can string a couple wins together soon, it might be possible.

No. 8 Jimmie Johnson

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    It's hard to imagine Johnson's chances for another title aren't sunk after his wreck at Charlotte—a wreck like that is something that can take a couple weeks to bounce back from, and by then, it will be too late.

    If anyone can bounce back, Jimmy can, but I just don't see it happening.

    Bad for Jimmie since he was just hitting his stride, but good for the rest of the Chasers.

No. 7 Kurt Busch

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    Kurt had a solid finish at Charlotte, moving up from qualifying 20th to a 13th place finish.

    While earning 31 points is nothing to sneeze at and having a car that moved up in the field for once was a large improvement over previous races, if Kurt doesn't crack the top 5 soon, his Cup hopes are done.

No. 6 Brad Keselowski

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    It's odd to say Kurt and Brad are in the same boat, especially since they are Penske teammates.

    Keselowski moved up from 26th at the start of Charlotte to 16th at finish. Keselowski, at times, has appeared unbeatable, but if he can't shake this blending in bug of late, his Cup hopes will be sunk.

    Talladega could push Keselowski into the top tier with a solid finish on Sunday, but if he doesn't perform at peak soon, he will be ready to park the car until next season.

No. 5 Kyle Busch

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    Poor Kyle, he just can't get a win. After a great run on Saturday night at Charlotte, he just couldn't cash in the victory.

    Another solid run, especially if he could pull out a win could make him a true contender for the Cup. Problem is until Talladega, we have to keep hearing him whine about how he can't win.

    Win, lose or crash, Busch always has something or someone to complain about. For now it's "boo hoo Kenseth was faster."

No. 4 Tony Stewart

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    Tony had a nice run at Charlotte; a great run would have been holding on to first since he started on the pole.

    Smoke is in a decent place heading into Talladega, but a win is needed for Stewart's Cup hopes.

    If Smoke can manage to "smoke 'em" at Talladega, then he just might be a man to beat.

No. 3 Matt Kenseth

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    After a win at Charlotte, Kenseth finally lived up to potential. He has driven consistently well all year, and the icing on the cake will be if Kenseth can continue his winning.

    If Talladega proves to fall Kenseth's way, he could be a true force to be reckoned with.

No. 2 Kevin Harvick

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    Harvick had a good push up from 14th to sixth on Saturday night and finds himself within five points of first place for the Cup. Consistency at this point in the Chase is the name of the game.

    Harvick's last-minute slide into positions to win races hasn't happened lately, and if his magic doesn't happen soon, he could find himself on the outside looking in when someone more consistent wins the Cup.

No. 1 Carl Edwards

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    Edwards has been among the most consistent racers of late. He's almost always the man to beat in both Nationwide and Sprint Series.

    Edwards started and finished third on Saturday night, and while it's not a win, those 42 points earned is a solid way to stay in first place in points.

    If he can remain more consistent than second-place Harvick, he should be able to pull off a Cup title.

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