_Author’s Note: Yesterday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we previewed the first half of the 2012 Chase field. Up next are those drivers that are seeded seventh through 12th. Did you miss the first half of the group? Click here to take a look at them. ((LINK: https://frontstretch.com/FSNewsletter/41467/))_
*7th – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-9 points)*
_*1 Win, 10 Top 5s, 17 Top 10s*_
Is it just me or does Dale Earnhardt, Jr. seem like a different person this year? His interviews come across as a bit more carefree and happy to be racing week after week. Add in the win at Michigan that broke a four-year streak outside of Victory Lane, and you’ve got a driver that’s more motivated than ever to prove he deserves the equipment he’s piloting. While I’m not quite convinced that Junior has what it takes to run a strong ten races to close out the season, the pairing with Steve Letarte appears to be coming along nicely. In fact, even the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet likes how much more in
*8th – Matt Kenseth (-9 points)*
_*1 Win, 10 Top 5s, 16 Top 10s*_
Matt Kenseth may be in a lame duck position as he finishes off the 2012 season with Roush Fenway Racing before heading to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, but that doesn’t mean he’ll step aside and let the other 11 Chasers have at it for the championship. After winning the Daytona 500, Kenseth has 16 top-10 finishes in 26 starts and just one DNF, and you can bet he’ll want to leave RFR wondering why they were unable to garner enough sponsorship for comfort. Though he may not have enough for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Kenseth could quietly sneak in take it all just as he’s headed out the door.
*9th – Kevin Harvick (-12 points)*
_*0 Wins, 4 Top 5s, 11 Top 10s*_
Though he has yet to visit Victory Lane this year, Kevin Harvick has shown some improvement since being reunited with crew chief Gil Martin two weeks ago in Atlanta. In fact, in their first race back together, the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet led 101 laps and appeared poised to grab his first win of the year until he faded late in the running. However, that fifth-place finish in Atlanta followed by a 10th-place run at Richmond proves Martin and Harvick should have never split up. And as a driver that has the knack for sneaking up on the field and competing for the win at the end of a race, Harvick could surprise everyone, though I have a feeling he needs more time with Martin atop the pit box before he can make a serious run at the championship. But it would be a surprise if he couldn’t pull out at least one victory before season’s end.
*10th – Martin Truex, Jr. (-12 points)
_*0 Wins, 6 Top 5s, 14 Top 10s*_
How impressive is it that Michael Waltrip Racing has two of its three teams inside the Chase this year? Martin Truex, Jr. has definitely grown into his own behind the wheel of the No. 56 Toyota. And while there’s not a huge chance that either MWR driver will win the championship, I wouldn’t count Truex out when it comes to his shot at Victory Lane in the remaining ten races. After all, he’s led laps in ten of the events this year, including a race-high 173 laps at Kansas where he finished in the runner-up spot. And if that’s not enough, he led 40 laps and came so close to Victory Lane in Atlanta.
*11th – Kasey Kahne (-12 points)*
_*2 Wins, 7 Top 5s, 13 Top 10s*_
In his new home at Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne has fulfilled his role nicely, having scored two victories and nearly jumping into the top-10 before the Chase began. But the question that remains is whether he can win the championship this year. The simple answer is no. While he does have the backing and equipment from HMS and will likely run well throughout the remaining ten races, he doesn’t quite have the edge needed to beat those with a significantly larger amount of experience in the Chase. But with that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet snag at least one more win before the season is up.
*12th – Jeff Gordon (-12 points)*
_*1 Win, 7 Top 5s, 12 Top 10s*_
For Jeff Gordon, the anxiety level at Richmond was probably higher than most, except perhaps Kyle Busch. In fact, it was quite interesting to see the transformation in his mood from the rain delay interview given while walking down pit road to the point where he got out of the car as the 12th and final Chase driver. More importantly, sneaking in by a slim one-point advantage should bring new life to the No. 24 team that has suffered some horrific luck this year. Add in the hideous mustache that Gordon has promised to bring back because he made the Chase, and we just might see a bit of the mid-90s driver that lit up the track and snagged four championships.
In the end, the only part of the first 26 races this year that means anything are those victories that have given the top-8 contenders a small jumpstart on Harvick, Truex, Kahne and Gordon, and with that being said, anything can happen in these final ten races. And while it’s highly unlikely that another driver will be able to accomplish the feat that Tony Stewart did last season, winning five of the last ten races, it still could happen. When it comes down to it, there’s a high possibility that it will be one of those four Hendrick Motorsports drivers that ends up holding up the championship trophy at Homestead. The question that remains is which one, though it’s hard to bet against Johnson and Knaus when they’ve come out on top so many times.
_Beth is a Co-Managing Editor for Frontstretch.com. She can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Beth_Frntstrtch ((LINK: http://www.twitter.com/Beth_Frntstrtch))_