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Thrill of the Chase is on in Sprint Cup

The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will look a little different this year with no Matt Kenseth for the first time ever and last year's pre-Chase star, Kyle Busch, out as well. Both missed out despite winning races. But fear not, Chase watchers, this year's field is filled with interesting, popular and high-quality drivers. Here are five things you need to know about the Chase:

Who's in?

Standings . . . Driver . . . No. . . . Team . . ...... Pts . . . ......Buzz

1 ........Mark Martin .....5 .......Hendrick ....5040....A revived Martin starts at the top at age 50.

2 .......Tony Stewart ....14 .....Stewart-Haas ...5030 ....New team owner had astounding start.

3 ......Jimmie Johnson ...48 ......Hendrick ......5030 .....Team goes for its fourth straight championship.

4 ........Denny Hamlin ...11 .......Joe Gibbs ......5020 ....The role of JGR elder statesman suits him well.

5 ..........Kasey Kahne.... 9 ......Richard Petty.... 5020 ....He's the superstar of RPM and will be in Fords next year, too.

6 .........Jeff Gordon .....24 ........Hendrick ........5010 .....Back issues aside, he spent most of season in top three.

7 ...........Kurt Busch ......2 ........Penske ..........5010 .....A runaway win in Atlanta proved this team was back.

8 .........Brian Vickers .....83 .......Red Bull........ 5010 .....Vickers' car is the first non-JGR Toyota in the Chase.

9 ..........Carl Edwards .....99 .....Roush//Fenway....5000 .....After breaking foot playing frisbee, Edwards is on crutches.

10 .........Ryan Newman ...39 .....Stewart-Haas .....5000 .....Newman last made the Chase in 2005.

11.......Juan Pablo Montoya. 42 ....Earnhardt Ganassi ....5000 ....Montoya got used to points racing this season.

12 ........Greg Biffle ..........16 ......Roush Fenway .....5000 ......Biffle finished third in last season's Chase.

5. Mark Martin enters with the lead

If Martin keeps saying he doesn't care about winning the championship, nobody will believe him anymore. Sure, early in the season he could pull off saying he just wanted to race for Rick Hendrick. But the Daytona-area resident has never won a championship and this could be his best shot yet if that bad luck (Mark Martin luck, as he's called it this season) leaves him alone.

4. All eyes will be on Talladega

The Halloween weekend race will be important not just because it's the sport's first return to Talladega since Carl Edwards' crash injured a handful of fans. Talladega's unpredictability makes it fun to watch and a nightmare for drivers trying to finish strong for the Chase. The race is later this year than it was last year. It's now in November and the fourth-to-last race of the Chase.

3. Newcomers will add some spice

Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers are new to the Chase. The pair have interesting things to say, and aren't ones to hide their feelings about happenings on the track. They've both been involved with controversies this season. Also, Montoya is the first foreign-born driver to ever make the Chase.

2. Consistency is crucial

Kyle Busch missed the Chase despite his four wins this season. Matt Kenseth, with two wins, missed it too. Several winless drivers are in. Furthermore, it's entirely possible that the winner of this year's championship could do it without a win in the next 10 races. This championship is about consistently strong finishes.

1. This is when the 48 is at its best

It doesn't matter where Jimmie Johnson enters the Chase (3rd this year), his remarkable consistency is designed for this 10-race dash to the finish. And the team will be even more determined this year, attempting an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship. Cale Yarborough, who is the only other driver ever to three-peat, teased last year that Johnson only tied his record. A Jimmie Johnson title in 2009 would be real history.

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