Jimmie Johnson has a stranglehold on the Chase

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:13 AM ET

TORONTO - Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the de facto halfway point in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, so what better time to look at who still is a contender and who are pretenders for the crown?

The Pretenders

Clint Bowyer: Currently 12th, with 5,426 points, 247 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. The fate of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing team was sealed when NASCAR knocked 150 points from its total after the New Hampshire race for having an illegal chassis.

Matt Kenseth: Currently 11th with 5,432 points, 242 behind Johnson. Kenseth has only one Top 10 finish (Kansas) in the Chase and Sunday’s 30th place in California put an end to any hopes for the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team.

Greg Biffle: Currently 10th with 5,458 points, 215 back. Biffle’s win at Kansas looked like it might be a sign that the No. 16 RFR Ford team could be a contender but when the engine in his car blew up Sunday in Fontana, Biffle’s chances pretty much blew up with it.

Kyle Busch: Currently 9th with 5,486 points, 187 back. If there is one driver capable of launching a stretch run at the championship this season from 187 points back it would be Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Jeff Burton: Currently 8th with 5496 points, 177 back. Burton has been the good soldier at RCR in the No. 31 Chevrolet, but it will take more than being the nicest guy in the paddock to win a championship.

The Contenders

Jimmie Johnson: Currently 1st with 5,673 points. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team just keeps on going. While many speculated this would be the year that the string of championships would end, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus finds new ways to win. The drive for five is in thriving. It is up to the rest to play catch up from here to Homestead.

Denny Hamlin: Currently 2nd, with 5,637 points, 36 back. There was almost unanimous agreement in the NASCAR garage that it would be Gibbs teammate Busch who would be the first Toyota driver to win a Sprint Cup championship, but the No. 11 team is the best bet to dethrone Johnson.

Kevin Harvick: Currently 3rd with 5,619 points, 54 back. The No. 29 RCR Chevrolet driver led most of the way this season, but started Chase behind both Johnson and Hamlin, who had more bonus-boosting wins. Harvick, however, is more than capable of passing both in the final six races.

Jeff Gordon: Currently 4th with 5,588 points, 85 back. If anyone is talented and experienced enough to win a championship without winning a race, it’s Gordon and the No. 24 HMS Chevrolet team. But he really needs to win one or even two to beat his teammate to five Cups.

Tony Stewart: Currently fifth with 5,566 points, 107 back. Stewart’s win Sunday in California breathed new life into the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet team, but it is still going to take some poor finishes by the group in front of him for Stewart to claim his third championship.

Kurt Busch: Currently 6th, with 5,533 points, 140 back. Busch has been there before so you can’t count the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team out of it just yet. However, he is going to have to win at least one of the remaining races to stay in the contender column.

Carl Edwards: Currently 7th, with 5511 points, 162 back. Still mathematically in contention, but the No. 99 RFR Ford has to put in some solid Top 5 finishes and hope all the rest of the Chasers blow up.


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