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article imageNASCAR: 16 drivers, 10 races, 1 champion

By John Duarte     Sep 16, 2015 in Sports
Chicago - Get ready, Chicago. The race is about to start. The Chase for the Sprint Cup is on and only one driver will come away as champion.
It has come down to 16 drivers. After 26 regular season races, the Sprint Cup Series is about to begin a 10-race showdown, known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup, that will see four of those 16 wage an all-out battle for the NASCAR top-level trophy.
The 16 drivers, ranked according to the Chase grid are: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup format is straight forward enough. All 16 drivers qualifying for the Chase are seeded according to how they performed during the 26 races making up the regular season. NASCAR reset points for all drivers to 2,000, adding three bonus points for each win for the qualified drivers. For example, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kenseth are the top ranked drivers, each receiving 12 points for each of their four wins.
Sunday in Chicago, the Chase opens with the Challenger Round with the first of three races. The winner in each of those races automatically advances to the Contender Round. The bottom four drivers in the Challenger Round are eliminated from further competition and the points for the remaining 12 drivers are again reset — this time to 3,000 points. So, it continues with the numbers being cut by four each round until there only four. At Homestead-Miami Speedway, on Nov. 22, the final four do battle with the winner being Sprint Cup champion.
Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, says 10 races sounds like a lot, but it is actually perform at your best for three races or you're out. And then, it starts all over again. There is no sitting back and relaxing.
“You can't be good once every three weeks. You've got to be good for 10 weeks,” Harvick said, adding that he is confident in his team's capability to deliver a winning car. “I feel like we're as good as any team out there. I feel like we can beat any team on any given day if all goes well.”
One man who can never be counted out is six-time Sprint Cup title holder, Johnson. He is the first to admit that things have only been moderately to his liking this season. But that is all behind him now and the season begins again and he is happy with the schedule in the weeks ahead.
“We're getting ready to go to a lot of tracks that have been the bread and butter for our race team. Hopefully, we can get things dialed in, get going,” said Johnson. “We know we have the equipment, just a matter of putting the mouse trap together the right way. Hopefully, this Lowe's Chevy is where it needs to be.”
Another finalist looking for a strong finish is Gordon, who is retiring from Sprint Cup competition at the end of the season. Arguably one of the best stock car drivers ever, Gordon is a four-time Winston Cup (the precursor to the Sprint Cup) champion. He is happy he's made the Chase and has the opportunity to go out as a champion.
“There was a lot of pressure in this final season to make the Chase, so I'm glad we got that done,” Gordon said. “It's nice to be in the Chase and take that relief and take that breath and now reset and see what we can do over the next 10 (races).”
For Kyle Busch, the season started in disaster. A serious accident in mid February kept him out of the first 11 races of 2015. He was a man possessed when he returned to Sprint Cup racing. Busch won four races since getting into active competition in May, including a stretch when he won three straight races and four in five events. NASCAR granted Busch a waiver stating he could only qualify for the Chase if he was in the Top 30 in the driver standings.
“It's been real fun, and (I) look forward to these final 10 weeks,” he said. “It's going to be grueling.”
Kenseth just wants to keep the momentum rolling. He has won three times in the last six races and the next two tracks — Chicago and New Hampshire — are ones where he has won previously.
“He better not be celebrating,” Kenseth said of his crew chief Jason Ratcliff after winning the race last weekend in Richmond. “He better be working in that car.”
So all eyes now turn to Chicagoland Speedway for the 400, the opening round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup schedule on Sept. 20, 2015.
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