NASCAR Sprint Cup | Midseason forecast

Guess which driver everyone’s following?

The Charlotte ObserverJune 14, 2013 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season passed its midway point at Pocono last week. With 12 races remaining until the Chase for the Cup begins (Sept. 15th at Chicago), here’s a look at how the contenders for this year’s championship are looking as the circuit heads into the summer (in order of championship potential):

AT THE FRONT

JIMMIE JOHNSON (1st, 3 wins): After he blew the field away at Pocono, who can doubt that the points leader will stay near or at the top until the postseason begins, then make a strong charge for his sixth Cup championship?

MATT KENSETH (6th, 3): Perhaps the hottest driver of the first half has cooled lately, with a 15th at Charlotte, a 40th at Dover and a 25th at Pocono. But he loves where he is with his new team at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Kenseth certainly will be heard from again.

CARL EDWARDS (2nd, 1): Yes, he’s second in points, but Edwards recently agreed that he’s had a “quiet” season. His victory at Phoenix seems like a long time ago (it was — the second race of the season) and he admits that if the Chase started today, he wouldn’t like his chances.

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (4th, 0): Ran well at Pocono (finishing third), and the last track he’s won at is Michigan (in 2012), this week’s stop. He’s in a solid spot to make another Chase. Championship contender? Let’s see how these next 12 pan out.

MIDDLE OF THE PACK

CLINT BOWYER (3rd, 0): Hasn’t won this season, but he’s been consistent (four top-five finishes). He seldom has the fastest car, leading 114 laps this season (and all but one of them at Richmond).

KYLE BUSCH (7th, 2): One of four drivers with multiple victories. Has yet to prove he can contend once the Chase begins, however.

KEVIN HARVICK (5th, 2): Victories at Richmond and Charlotte show how strong Harvick’s No. 29 Chevy team can be. However, he’s led 34 laps, so he’s not spending a lot time at the front.

BRAD KESELOWSKI (9th, 0): Last season’s champ has had 31 points deducted by penalties and would more safely be in the Chase in the sixth spot otherwise. He still hasn’t won a race.

KASEY KAHNE (eighth, 1): He’s slipped at Dover (23rd) and Pocono (36th) after finishing second at Charlotte.

ON THE BUBBLE

TONY STEWART (13th, 1): What has been a forgettable season got a boost with a victory at Dover and a fourth at Pocono. That’s moved Stewart to 13th and gives him a solid edge for the wildcard spot.

KURT BUSCH (15th, 0): Busch probably has a win in him this season — he’s shown sufficient speed several times to put him in Victory Lane. Whether his one-car Furniture Row Racing team has enough resources to keep him in contention is another matter.

GREG BIFFLE (10th, 0): Moved into the top 10 with his runner-up performance at Pocono (two points out of 11th), but remains in the danger zone until he can win.

JEFF GORDON (11th, 0): Would barely make the Chase as a wild card if it ended today, but he wouldn’t want it to be this close.

PAUL MENARD (12th, 0): Was in the top 10 as recently as last week, but dropped three spots after finishing 30th at Pocono.

DAVID RAGAN (29th, 1): Can the Talladega winner edge his way into the top 20 and become eligible for the wild card? He and Stewart are the only drivers outside the top 10 with a victory.

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