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And then there were two

And then there were two

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Tony Stewart  Momentum has clearly swung in Smoke’s favor. He’s always been a streaky driver, and now that he’s “on” it may be hard for Carl Edwards to hold him off.

2. Carl Edwards  Averaging a 5.6-place finish in the Chase, but Stewart is blowing Cousin Carl’s doors off in the wins department. Still, NASCAR’s points format rewards consistency over winning, so is it advantage: Carl?

3. Matt Kenseth  Talladega and Martinsville were considered the tracks that could derail Carl Edwards’ championship hopes. Turns out, they bit Matt.

4. Kevin Harvick  It looked as if Harvick was going to pull another miraculous “Where’d he come from?” finish at Texas. However, a two-tire pit call dropped him to 13th, effectively ending his championship hopes.

5. Jimmie Johnson  Johnson’s four finishes outside of the top 10 in this season’s Chase are more than in the last three Chases combined. That’s amazing.

6. Kasey Kahne  Kahne has only one finish outside the top 15 in the last eight races. Credit the lame-duck driver and the Red Bull Racing team (who may lose their jobs at season’s end) for not throwing in the towel.

7. Brad Keselowski  Since Keselowski and the No. 2 turned things around at Indy, they’ve recorded 11 top-12 runs in 15 races, winning twice. Unfortunately, Cinderella’s slipper isn’t going to fit.

8. Jeff Gordon  Returns to the track where he won in February. Unfortunately for Gordon, the track has been repaved, reconfigured and has only one good racing groove. He better qualify well.

9. Deny Hamlin  Was looking for a fourth consecutive top-10 run, which would have been his best string of finishes this year. Brad Keselowski saw to that, though.

10. Clint Bowyer  Would be seventh in the standings had he made the Chase. Woulda, shoulda, coulda, right? It will be interesting to see if he can elevate Michael Waltrip Racing to the next level in 2012.
 

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<p> Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart have separated themselves from the field in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup. But who's the real man to beat?</p>

11. Greg Biffle  Five straight top-15 showings for Biffle and the boys. Finishing strong matters.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Consecutive seventh-place finishes, the best we’ve seen in a few months out of this bunch.

13. Kurt Busch  Parked brother Kyle got more camera time than 30th-place Kurt at Texas.

14. Martin Truex Jr.  Bowyer’s teammate-to-be has three stright top 10s. Again, finishing strong matters.

15. Kyle Busch  There comes a turning point in every driver’s career. Maybe this was Kyle’s.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman
 

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